Thursday.. January 17, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 128

The Politics Of A Urinal
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

             I am watching West Wing.   The decisions the government leaders are about to make depend on polls, opinions, feedback from questions posed to Americans.   I squirm a little watching the show, thinking that the true convictions of an Administration might be shadowed by an opinion poll from others rather from the strategic viewpoint of the leaders themselves.
            I understand the need to “be right” and to be “popular” to stay in office.  I also understand the principle of “biting the bullet” and taking a stand despite what is popular, what is necessary for a “vote” to be pried out of a constituent’s pocket.
            In West Wing, the conflict that dominated the show’s ethos was whether or not the President, played by Martin Sheen, should tell the country that he was throwing all the federal government’s power toward curing cancer over the next decade.   His guts told him it was the right thing to do, but the politics of it shadowed the decision.  
            Hunting down Osama bin Laden often strikes me as a popularity poll adventure turned into a nightmare.   Each day that passes and bin Laden lives, the credibility of America seems to be whittled down a notch or two.   If the “sheriff” can’t capture the “bad guy” and slam him into the county jail, how can the sheriff protect us from the next bin Laden?
            I worry also that the scope of Terrorism far exceeds the “hunt for bin Laden.”   Yet I feel I am being manipulated by the Administration.  I feel there are many heads of many snakes that need to be recognized beyond bin Laden—but I don’t know their names, or see their faces splattered on wanted posters, or headlined in newspapers.
            History tells us we need to identify a “bad guy” to empower the sheriff to rally a posse and take to the hills in pursuit.    But, if we focus our attention on just one bad guy and he gets away, have we diluted and damaged our credibility not only with our own citizens, but also with the world who watches and roots either for the bad guy or us?   Are the popularity polls slipping because we haven’t made good on our promise to “eliminate evil?”

            These thoughts grew stronger when I was in Butte, Montana with my wife to visit an old friend of hers who had moved from California to the Big Sky Country nine years ago.   We drove from Helena over the Continental Divide to Butte, ears popping as we reached the altitude of over 6,300 feet.  
            Butte, a former prosperous mining town, has suffered for decades.   Casinos and bars litter the town, buffeted by pawnshops.   The poorer a city becomes, the more it reaches for straws—gambling and booze take the chill off poverty, and blinds one to the decay of a former great city.
            Inside the restaurant where we met Karen, my wife’s friend, was a casino.   Nothing very fancy—some slot machines and Keno.   But in the bathroom was the key to keeping one’s focus on what the government wants us to put in our cross hairs.   In the urinal was a plastic target with the face of bin Laden etched on it.   There was some primal satisfaction in urinating on the target—a kind of “gotcha bin Laden even if no one else can.”

            I wondered if the troubles of a dying city struggling to keep its head above water might need to urinate on a bin Laden to keep its spirits up.   Booze, gambling and bin Laden…a triad of ways to keep one’s mind off the unemployment, the buildings with windows smashed out, the emptiness of the streets, the biting cold winds blowing over the empty hole of one of the world’s largest open pit mine sitting still, like a gaping wound, giving nothing to the citizens who mill around its perimeter.
            I hoped the Administration would expand its public take on Terrorism.   There was more to gain from attacking the terror of unemployment, or the terror of booze taking away a man’s or woman’s will to succeed, or how spending one’s last dollar on a slot or Keno or poker wasn’t a solution but rather a symptom of the disease of complacency.
            West Wing’s message suggested the opinions of others were more important than the truths—or the personal convictions of a leader.
            I found it odd that the Terrorists don’t use polls.   Instead, they act and others follow.  The act seems to precede the following in their culture.   I feel America rests too heavily on opinion polls.
            The John Walker case seems to be hewn out of public opinion.   Instead of taking the hard line and treating John Walker as a traitor deserving of the death penalty, the Administration is watering down his acts with less extreme penalties and charges.   If it is reacting to opinion polls, then where is the leadership?

            In Butte, Montana I know where it is.
            It's in a urinal.


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