Thursday.. January 17, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 128
The Politics Of A Urinal
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
To Jan. 16--FUTURE OF MAN--A PERSPECTIVE FROM HELENA,
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