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Jewish World Review May 3, 2000 / 29 Nissan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports


Show of force! -- NEWSPAPER PEOPLE know the power of pictures. Forced to choose last weekend between one of a federal agent pointing in the general direction of a scared-to-death 6-year-old and a snapshot of the same kid with his father, they knew which had the firepower.

They went with the newsmaker, the AP photo guaranteed to win the Pulitzer, the picture that screams "Show of Force!"

This is the message delivered by that fellow toting the automatic weapon. He was a police detective presenting his badge to a potential suspect. He was not a deputy U.S. attorney general standing at the door of a Southern university saying it was his duty to ensure its peaceful integration. He was a "fed" showing he had more firepower than anyone else in that little Miami household and, for that reason, they damned well better turn over the kid.

The American lawyer for Juan Gonzalez spotted the specter immediately. By afternoon, he had a picture running on the newswires of happy son and father reunited.

But while that second photo made a good case for the enduring paternal bond between the two Cubans, the first cast a grave light on that between the government of the United States and the American people it was created to serve. It showed a well-armed Big Brother -- Big Sister in Janet Reno's case -- using his vastly greater firepower to show the little folk who the Boss is.

That's not a good picture. It says that the way to measure and display legitimate authority is by having the biggest gun capable of shooting the most bullets the fastest.

Charlton Heston must love it. He comes into our living rooms like a 21st century Paul Revere to tell us that federal agents are already in their cars, dead set on disarming us.

Comrades to his right speak in even darker tones of choppers heading in our direction to dictate the arrival of a new world order, in which guys like us take orders from Washington and guys like Clinton take them from some foreign bureaucrat in the United Nations.

Before that Saturday such folk had "Ruby Ridge!" and "Waco!" in their vocabulary of rage. Now they've got a handy picture to nail on the clubhouse wall.

A government that knew its people better might have avoided giving its critics such a weapon. Even the most loyal, most law-abiding of us resent the arrogance of governmental power.

After all, we Americans are different. When the Canadian government told its people to begin using the metric system, they did it without thinking. When our government did the same thing, we stuck to our p's and q's, kept buying milk in pints and quarts. We kept checking how fast our kids were growing in inches and feet.

And why do you think both Al Gore and George Bush are both basing their campaigns in Austin and Nashville?

We were not put here for Washington, you see. Washington was put here for us.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

© 2000, NEA