Heading for the Bush

It's time Americans rise up to reclaim their freedoms and courage from the hands of a president whose instinctive reaction in a crisis was to race for the bush.

Winston Churchill perched on the roof of the Air Ministry in the midst of the deadly Blitz of London by German warplanes “to watch the fireworks,” as he famously quipped, is among the most elevating mental snapshot of World War II.

Long after the staged “Top Gun” style landing by President George W. Bush on an aircraft carrier has receded from the ephemeral public memory, the presidential images that will endure from 9/11 will be those of Vice President Dick Cheney being grabbed by Secret Service agents and whisked off to an underground bunker under the White House, where he has seemingly taken semi-permanent shelter since, and of President Bush being secreted away at airforce bases in Louisiana and Nebraska.

There were eminent security reasons for both men to be cautious against an enemy whose identity was originally unknown, as indeed there were for Churchill to avoid the roof of the Air Ministry, because of a deadly and all too well known enemy. Indeed, the threat to Churchill in overruling his security detail was real and imminent. By contrast, there was never any credible threat to either Bush or Cheney. London was a mighty dangerous place during the Blitz of late 1940 through mid 1941. Close to a million buildings in London took a hit from Nazi planes and tens of thousands of Londoners were killed in the air strikes.

Churchill’s courage in defying the Nazi planes was not just a testament to his bravery, but it also epitomized leadership in a time of war, and as Bush constantly keeps harping, this is war.

Bush’s and Cheney’s fear and paranoia, by contrast, embody the cowardice of their leadership and policy in the wake of 9/11. The made-for-TV images of cowboy Bush with the bullhorn at Ground Zero and the Top Gun style landing sketched by his handlers are designed to construct a fiction of Bush’s presidential courage. In truth, Bush’s cowardice in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and his administration’s policies since, have fed the public hysteria and fear so rampant in the country, which in turn is prodding Americans to surrender their most cherished democratic principles and traditions at the altar of security.

Given America’s military might, there was never a question of the country capitulating to terrorists on the physical front. The real question is whether America will continue to live up to its ideals. The engine of hate that Al Qaeda and their ilk feel toward America is borne not from its military superiority, but rather its celebration of the human spirit and individual liberty, which these Islamic extremists mistake for licentiousness and promiscuity.

As president, Bush could have defied the terrorists by standing resolute in preserving the most open society in human history that we have ever fashioned. He fell prey instead to the fear and paranoia that engulfed him and his administration at the start of this crisis. The ruthless and illegal rounding up of hundreds of innocent Muslims, the detentions of suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay in conditions that violate both the minimal norms of democratic societies, as well as the Geneva Convention, the unAmerican PATRIOT Act, the ludicrous color warning system and crass displays of police power in public squares are designed to keep Americans on edge and in a perpetual state of anxiety.

Whatever the original motivations may have been for these tactical responses, they now serve only crass political purpose. The real war on terror is, and has to be, fought with precision and intelligence, and for the most part, quietly. The purpose of this all too public war and the frontal assault against the civil liberties of citizens and non citizens alike in this country is to mask Bush abysmal failures in dealing with both the economy as well as his much-touted war on terror. It’s time Americans rise up to reclaim their freedoms and courage from the hands of those whose instinctive reaction in a crisis was to race for the bush. 

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