Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2001/ 30 Tishrei 5762

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

When the rhetoric is drowned in fear -- TEACHERS of a previous generation, before they were required to have Ph.Ds in grief counseling, self-esteem and other therapeutic disciplines at the expense of writing a coherent sentence, gave it to their students straight: "What you do speaks so loud no one can hear what you say."

Official Washington has all but succumbed to the intimidation of the security men. The Secret Service, having closed Pennsylvania Avenue and hobbled Reagan National Airport, is trying now to close Seventeenth Street NW, as it runs along the western edge of the White House complex, and shutting down Silver Spring may be on someone's drawing board. The Capitol Police have closed off the Capitol from everyone but Congress, and has wrecked the traffic not already rendered chaotic by the Secret Service.

These are the same security men who put the president in a hole in the ground in Nebraska in the hours after the disasters of September 11, and George W. might still be there if he had not squared his shoulders, reminded everyone (including himself) that he was the president of the United States and they were not, and ordered Air Force One back to Washington.

Dick Cheney, the early tough guy of this administration to whom we all owe a great debt, nevertheless allowed - in his own telling of the incident - Secret Service agents to burst into his office at the White House to pick him up "bodily" and carry him out to another place of safety. For a moment, Mr. Cheney, perhaps as rattled as the rest of us in the late morning of September 11, forgot who he was, or he would have told the agents that if they ever put their hands on him again without permission he would have them arrested for assault and thrown into a cold cell.

The Secret Service is understandably a little spooked; the agency has lost two presidents (McKinley and Kennedy) and almost lost another (Reagan) on their watch. Agents were so frightened of shadows and sharp noises in the Clinton years that they occasionally roughed up spectators who were guilty of nothing more than criticizing the president.

But as long as they have the president and the vice president persuaded that security bureaucrats have the answers neither man will be able to inspire the rest of us with admonitions to get on with a normal life.

The public doesn't need much encouragement to slip into hysteria, and there are plenty of journalists, particularly on cable-TV, to provide that encouragement. Much of the coverage of the "bio-terrorist attack on America" - one dead and a half dozen on antibiotics in a nation of nearly 300 million - is two millimeters short of irresponsible. When Sen. Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, got a letter yesterday postmarked Sept. 18 in Trenton, N.J., the same postmark that was on the letter to Tom Brokaw at NBC-TV, the hysteria was all but unbound. (Another compelling question, lost in the gathering panic, is why it took 27 days for a first-class letter to travel 178 miles from Trenton to Washington.)

The damage done to public confidence was not wrought by the few actual anthrax spores, which is serious enough, but the panic that produced hundreds of hoaxes, "mysterious white powder" typically discovered to be Old Bay seasoning (in a restaurant in Atlantic City) and Sweet 'n' Low (in a trash can in the galley of an airliner in Indianapolis). Government workers were hosed down in Australia after "mysterious white powder" was discovered in a government office.

Twelve Frenchmen were "decontaminated," and panic, if not anthrax, attacked in Switzerland, Berlin, even in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

The worldwide panic wrought by baking soda, talcum powder, a few grains of refined sugar and vivid imaginations threatened to deprive journalists of their moment of unaccustomed importance (not to be confused with self-importance, which remains intact).

Steve Coz, the editor of the National Enquirer, where all this began barely a week ago, thinks his coverage of a tale, since discredited, that Osama bin Laden's hatred of America was traced to a romance with an American woman who laughed at the poverty of his manly apparatus, is the source of the Great Bio-terrorist Attack on America. "You go to gas stations and supermarkets and there it is, the tabloids, a uniquely American product," he said yesterday. "We're a big part of the American culture." That's pretty fanciful, but no more than a lot of the rhetoric we've heard since September 11.

If President Bush is determined to persuade Americans to get on with their lives - "go to work, to church, to ball games and the shopping mall" - he has to call in his chiefs and remind them that "what you do speaks so loud no one can hear what you say." He could tell them of Stonewall Jackson's admonition that a leader must "never take counsel of his fears."

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

Wesley Pruden Archives

© 2001 Wes Pruden