Jewish World Review July 13, 2004/ 24 Tamuz, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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The dumbest idea of the season | Some ideas are dumber than others, and the dumbest of the season is percolating somewhere in the bowels of the government — the idea that maybe we ought to consider postponing the November elections in deference to Osama bin Laden.

Responsible governments make contingency plans for all sorts of unlikely events; somewhere deep inside the Pentagon there are no doubt contingency plans for invading Scotland or repelling an invasion by a fearsome axis of drivel (France, Monaco and San Marino). But woe to the brigadier or bureaucrat who talks about it.

The idea of postponing the November elections, nutty though it may be, was apparently hatched by the Rev. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., a Baptist clergyman in New Jersey. He is the chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who wrote to Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security chief, to tell him that he should seek advice about how to put off the elections.

This might be a cover for the committee's real concern. The Election Assistance Commission was established after the Florida election fiasco of the year 2000 to offer advice on how to deal with problems such as defective punchboard voting machines, lest the blue-haired ladies of Palm Beach County accidentally vote again for Pat Buchanan. Or it might be something else. Small commissions are often tempted to think big thoughts, hence the suggestion that we ought to postpone the elections before Osama does it for us.

Mr. Soaries was no doubt inspired by Mr. Ridge's remarks last week that he has contingency plans for dealing with disruptions at the party conventions, beginning with the Democratic convention opening in Boston in less than a fortnight. There was the predictable scramble yesterday to treat the parson's idea as radioactive though perhaps useful, after Newsweek magazine reported that Mr. Soaries' letter to Mr. Ridge had been forwarded to the Justice Department for consideration. A spokesman for the Justice Department said there had been no request for "a legal review," which is not quite the same thing as saying a request for something had not been received.

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The president's press agent was something less than categorical in knocking down the idea as well, telling reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Washington from Tennessee that he had not heard "any real suggestion that there would be a delay in the elections." You might think that the president would have wanted this treated instantly and forcefully as the dumb idea it is, lest someone get the idea that in view of his recent polling numbers the president's wise men might not think the idea is dumb after all.

A spokesman for Sen. Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee dealing with terrorism and homeland security, said delaying the elections could not be made "without knowing the nature and scope of the attack. If Washington, D.C., is going up in flames that day, we might have to delay the election, but if the attack is aimed at Mount Rushmore, maybe not."

We certainly expect official Washington to react to threats and terror in a way that "Mount Rushmore," i.e., the rest of the country, would not. Congress showed us what real panic looks like when parties unknown sprinkled a few grains of anthrax about the Capitol: The photographs of congressional leaders knocking each other out of the way, scrambling down the Capitol steps, hurrying to be first in line at the airport, told it all. The White House closed off Pennsylvania Avenue in the name of security, making it a parking lot for the Secret Service bodyguards even before September 11. Courage in the face of lethal conflict is for the 19-year-old kids we send to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Doesn't everyone know how important we are in Washington?

Abraham Lincoln, whose name is often invoked hereabouts, declined to call off the presidential election of 1864, or even tinker with the date, in the midst of civil war when the threat of disruption was real and when his re-election prospects were in considerable doubt. We expect the people of Iraq, backed by none of the democratic traditions that undergird our own government, to conduct their elections under the threat of terrorism. Why shouldn't we?

Maybe this was the dumb idea of only one na´ve and well-intentioned man. Or maybe not. The nature of security men is to shut down everything for the convenience of perfect security. But the security men don't run the country. Not yet.

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

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