I couldn't believe it a couple of weeks ago when I found myself nodding in agreement with a Republican politician. There was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg telling Rolling Stone magazine that Americans are "too freaked out" about another possible terrorist attack. As RS pointed out, this is a guy who is privy to intelligence reports and who has dispatched NYPD officers to London to investigate terrorist plots. Bloomberg's comments came just one day after a new CNN poll showed that 36 percent of Americans are worried they or someone in their family will wind up a victim of terrorism.
What worries me more than the chance of a terrorist attack is the fact that so many Americans are freaked out about it. The whole point of terrorism as a tactic is to have a country's population walking around in fear every day. Why give the murderers that victory?
You're more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack, according to the National Safety Council. We've had one major attack on this country by al-Qaeda, and yes, it was as horrible and shocking as we remember. But was it really, as the media keeps referring to it, "devastating" to the nation? No, devastating would be something along the lines of the Germans' eight-month, sustained bombing of London, including the Houses of Parliament. Even then, the English mourned, sighed, and got on with their lives. For some reason, though, it's almost as if Americans are expected to live in fear.
Maybe it's because I grew up hearing my Belgian mother and her family members talk about World War II. Stories in which everyone heard sirens and hurried down to the bomb shelter, then dusted themselves off and went to a concert the next night. Or Mom's memories of getting used to listening for a certain sound when a German V2 rocket flew overhead, knowing that if she heard it, she could keep walking to school and not have to dash into the nearest doorway for cover. Whatever the reason, Americans' reactions to 9/11 have often struck me as, well, kind of wuss-y. I don't mean that in a macho, "you're not tough enough" way. More like, "Settle down, friends, get a grip, this is no way to live."
What is it that keeps a lot of Americans in fear of something they'll likely never be faced with? Some people seem to think their fear is a form of patriotism. Others, for whom the news is mostly a form of entertainment, simply feed on sensationalism. But, as I see it, the primary reason is that we've been bombarded since 9/11 by the Bush administration's fear-mongering. Americans also sense that despite their bluster, BushCo officials haven't done much to make the country safer.
This is an election year, and a big part of Republican strategy, as it was in 2002 and 2004, is to scare people. That's why you're seeing Rumsfeld and Cheney giving speeches around the country, reminding everyone that the boogeyman is coming to get them. As we near the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it'll only get worse. Since that day, BushCo has rung the 9/11 alarm like a kind of Pavlov's bell, gathering support whenever they've made another of their series of awful mistakes.
It's a strategy that still works with about a third of the voters, which is amazing, considering the complete mess BushCo has made of America's reaction to 9/11. Osama's still loose, our armed forces are strained to the breaking point, and we're mired in a ruinous war that a majority of Americans now believe has made the US less safe.
When anyone points out their mistakes, however, the BushCo crowd responds by strutting around as if anything -- anything -- they've done has been successful, and launch into their mantra, like some demented parrot: 9/11, 9/11, Squawk!, terror, terror, Squawk!, blah blah ad infinitum. The fact that so many people fall for this hogwash probably says more than we want to admit about education in the US.
Meanwhile, much bigger problems than pissed-off terrorists go unattended -- problems like global warming and our dependence on oil. Or our health care delivery system, which is draining Americans' wallets and businesses' profits -- never mind the moral issue of why we're the only civilized country where access to health care isn't considered a basic right. Or the obscene gap between the richest and poorest Americans, the extent of which hasn't been seen since the late 19th Century's Robber Baron era. Or desperately needed competence in rebuilding New Orleans and its levees. Or the national debt, so enormous that Chinese banks are essentially financing the US government. Or the suffering in the US and abroad triggered by the economic shifts of globalization.
No, don't count on BushCo to work on any of those problems. They're too busy scaring people in order to get their buddies re-elected. But then, as incompetent as the Bush folks have proved themselves to be, both in Iraq and New Orleans, their not working on those problems might be a blessing in disguise.
Parts of this column appeared in an earlier article.
To contact John Grooms, e-mail him at email@example.com.