Jewish World Review May 13, 2005/ 4 Iyar, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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The layered panic in the streets | Well, maybe the terrorists have won. They've demonstrated that they can shut down the government without actually doing anything.

Who needs an Islamist air ace in a hijacked Boeing to scare the pants off Washington politicians when a student pilot in a little Cessna can do it without meaning to?

There was Dick Cheney taken to the famous "undisclosed destination." Cops of every size, hue and jurisdiction scrambled through the streets with guns drawn, looking for someone to shoot at. The speaker of the House tried to outrun his bodyguards to get out of the Capitol first, and Nancy Pelosi, looking like anything but a leader of trembling Democrats, ruined a perfectly good pair of pantyhose, having been lifted bodily out of her shoes by her minders, running barefooted through the throng behind hysterical guards.

"Run! Don't walk!"

Walking not running, moving quietly and deliberately to the nearest exit as generations of mamas and teachers taught us to do, is for constituents and other peasants who don't know any better and who, if worse should descend to worst, would be no great loss to the Republic, anyway.

The president, for which we can all be grateful, was not at home, having taken the morning off for a bicycle ride through the Maryland countryside. The Secret Service, which actually runs the White House, waited until the bike ride was finished before deciding whether even to tell him about the great accidental Cessna raid on Washington. This is the same Secret Service that stuffed the president into a hole in the ground in Nebraska on the morning of September 11 while the president's frightened men sent a girl out to reassure us. (Karen Hughes did her best, but she wasn't actually the president.)

Washington hadn't seen such a sight since the Great Anthrax Scare of '01, when the front-page photographs of Dennis Hastert leading the titans of Congress down the Capitol steps in full flight to the nearest bus, train or plane to anywhere, just so it was out of Dodge, confirmed everything about Congress we were afraid we knew.

The spectacle at the White House and the flight on the Hill on Wednesday was entertaining, in a perverse way. We hadn't seen so many congressmen in full flight since the congressional stampede back to Washington after the debacle at First Manassas. But it ought to frighten us. With most of "the greatest generation" in the graveyard, we're all that's left.

The suspicion grows this morning that all those frightened congressmen and denizens of the White House know something about security, and what to be afraid of when one little Cessna crosses the Anacostia River bearing down on the capital, that they don't want to tell us.

Congress spent $4.5 billion on spy cameras and screening machines to monitor and harass everything that moves and now we learn that most of it is junk. The radiation monitors don't know enough to tell the difference between nuclear radiation and the natural radiation from kitty litter. Machines to monitor poisonous gases or chemicals in the air can't produce results until long after most of us would be dead. The Department of Homeland Security (the name of the bureaucracy is something discarded by George Orwell) concedes the defense against terrorism ain't much but not to worry: It's "a layered defense." A customs officer in charge of ports and border security tells the New York Times: "It is not the ultimate capacity, but it reduces risk." Pulling the covers over your head is not the ultimate defense, either, but it reduces risk. Use two blankets and you've got a "layered defense."

Osama bin Laden spent another day with the scorpions, bugs and worms in his cave somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, studying his tattered Victoria's Secret catalog and dreaming of the blue-eyed virgins waiting for him in paradise. But if he and his accomplices in evil were monitoring Fox News or CNN, he could have allowed himself a chuckle at the sight of the panic in the streets in Washington. Alas, we can't.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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