Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2002/ 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Saved from terror,
but not ingratitude | John Allen Muhammad and his teenage sidekick may not be terrorists, as in the al Qaeda definition of the term, but they succeeded in terrorizing the city of manicured hands and sloping shoulders that is pleased to call itself the capital of the free world.

Beyond the incalculable human tragedy of 10 lives lost and the fearful wounding of three others, the scary residue of the story is how Muhammad and his teenage companion could turn healthy grown men into quivering puddles of lime-green Jell-O.

The story line as the search for the killers stretched into the third week, pushed along by pundits and above all the talking heads of cable-TV, was of how the city was cowering in search of elusive manly courage. The chances of anyone's actually dying at the hands of the sniper on any given day were reckoned at about 1 in 4 million (against 1 in 191,992 of dying by falling down the stairs in any given year, as measured by the National Safety Council), but schools were locked down, restaurants were emptied, football games were canceled and every parking lot in town and 'burbs was all but deserted.

The city was swathed in self-pity and compassionate lamentations for the frightened and the helpless. The lugubrious Howard Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent and MSNBC lamentator, moved life-hardened men to tears with the pitiful story of how he and his kids were "huddled indoors after school instead of being at Little League or tennis practice," and why weren't President Bush himself and maybe even Miss Laura out on the streets doing something about it?

Mere mayors and police chiefs, commanding the men who finally caught the snipers, were not enough to pacify the butterflies in Mr. Fineman's delicate tummy. Just before the arrests yesterday morning he demanded to know why presidents and Cabinet officers and even the 101st Airborne Division were not on the case. Wouldn't Bill Clinton have been on all 76 channels by now, blubbering and bloviating, sharing our pain?

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was certainly doing all she could. Hotly pursued by her Republican opponent, she set out to make the best of convenient tragedy, demanding new laws to control guns and bullets and maybe even laws to restrict blue Chevy Caprice sedans to nice retired schoolteachers, lest they be used by snipers. Mr. Fineman was sure he knew why George W. Bush was staying out of the manhunt, and it wasn't because he was determined to let the local officials and local cops run the investigation. And it wasn't because that's the way the Constitution organized it, either, but because by staying out of it his political operatives could keep the voters focused on Iraq, which is presumed to work to the advantage of Republican candidates. "His cautious political advisers don't want to do anything to change that dynamic," wrote Mr. Fineman. "Why risk getting more deeply involved in a case that might still take days, weeks or months to solve?"

It was enough to make a man long for his nanny, or at least for Karen Hughes. "The counselor to the president has a sure touch for Main Street worries - perhaps because she is the devoted mother of a 15-year-old son, Robert. She and her family lived a more or less normal life in Northwest Washington. But they moved back to Austin, Texas, last summer. And for Robert, it's a good thing. He wouldn't be able to play outside, either." And all because the devoted mother's boss sat selfishly in his (vote-) counting house, stubbornly refusing to take over the investigation.

As it turned out and to the consternation of the pundits and lamentators who were ready to pounce on Montgomery County's Chief Charles A. Moose, the director of the investigation, the compassionate conservative president didn't have to. Nothing like bringing in a couple of killers, even with the help of regiments of G-men, to quiet the pitter-patter of faint hearts.

And now that we can all cross the street without looking over our shoulders, can the Revs (Jackson, Sharpton, Farrakhan) be on their way? Everyone was sure the sniper would turn out to be a good ol' boy, maybe even a militiaman. Finding the killers was not nearly so important as cracking the case in a politically correct way. We certainly didn't expect the sniper to be a Fruit of Islam, a onetime security man for Louis Farrakhan. It was bad enough that one of the suspects was named Muhammad, but he's of a dark persuasion and there was the inevitable early buzz that the bigots and race hustlers were ready, as difficult as it may be in the circumstances, to try to make something of it.

The sniper, a killer to make a killer's blood run cold, chose his victims in a way that The Washington Post all but celebrated as a triumph of "multiculturalism" in the enlightened suburbs. The man leading the manhunt was black, and so were many of his most skillful and dedicated detectives. But if we've learned anything in the capital of the free world it's that there's more than one way to terrorize the gullible, the green and the ungrateful.

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

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