Inside the Capitol

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Homeland Security has impossible task

SANTA FE – I feel a little sorry for our Department of Homeland Security because it is trying to perform an impossible task made necessary by an ill-conceived War on Terror.
The mission of Homeland Security is unlike any the government ever has attempted. There was the Civil Defense Agency but that was to guard us against being nuked by ICBMs. They stocked bomb shelters and taught us how to duck and cover. We knew we’d have some advance warning as soon as the missiles were detected coming from the other side of the world.
Homeland Security is different. It is protecting us from an enemy within. It asks us to always be watchful for unknown dangers, coming at any time, from any direction. It asks us to spy on our neighbors and keeps us constantly reminded of our alert level.
It warns us when to be especially fearful. Basically, that is whenever we otherwise would be having a really good time. It begins with New Year’s Day bowl games and ends with New Year’s Eve celebrations. In between, we are warned about national holidays, sports spectaculars and musical awards shows of every variety.
But now we are being cautioned about threats to the very roots of our democracy. This year, we will be at extra risk during the Republican and Democrat national conventions, and yes, even in the voting booth. This threat is so bad that the government is considering postponing the November elections.
Now if that isn’t the dumbest notion ever concocted. We managed to get through the Civil War and World War II without canceling any elections. In 1864, poll workers took ballots into combat zones. In oppressed countries, people brave all kinds of dangers to get to the polls.
And what a political snafu. At a time when the president is not looking especially strong in the polls, the Homeland Security Department suggests postponing the election.
It would have been far too easy to have made this a column about how that is exactly the way most dictators got started. “We’ll have elections as soon as the country is safe. Meanwhile, I’m president for Life.”
That’s not what the administration is saying, but it is the sort of thing that produces the oft-heard comparisons between our president and history’s tyrants.
Homeland Security has the impossible task of keeping Americans on edge. That is not where we want to be. We’d prefer to be enjoying the comfortable life we have carved out for ourselves.
And we don’t like being told that we live in a time more dangerous than any in history – especially when our president is telling us we are safer now than we were on September 11. That is very confusing. And it isn’t helping the president.
Let’s face it, folks. Terrorism has always been with us and it always will be. It has always been the tool of the powerless to fight the strong. Terrorism will not be eradicated. We will not win that war. We can take precautions to make it less likely it will directly affect ourselves, but it is still going to happen somewhere.
The chance of terrorism affecting any of us is about the same as getting caught in a natural disaster. Some people stay out of the Caribbean in the fall to avoid hurricanes or won’t travel to California to avoid earthquakes, but most of us go about our business or pleasure and don’t worry about it.
And that’s the way we should address the terror threat.
Lest you think only the feds can mess up homeland security, remember the woman who called the New Mexico Homeland Security office and told them she was going to kill the governor. What did that office do? It closed for the rest of the day.
It closed. I would have expected that in a disaster so horrible it would shut down everything in the state, there would be one office open, protecting me. It was closed.


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