Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2001 / 6 Kislev, 5762

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Normalcy vs. security at the White House

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- PRESIDENT BUSH'S urging of Americans to stay alert but resume their business as usual is a formula for surviving the war on terrorism that's a lot easier in the saying than the doing.

There being nothing normal about what happened on Sept. 11 or in the subsequent anthrax outbreak, special precautions doubtless are necessary to guard against further attacks.

After interminable delays and political squabblings, Congress has finally dealt with one of the most obvious in passing a package of essential airport security measures. But it will take at least a year to hire and train the 28,000 new federal screeners and put the whole package in place.

Thanksgiving weekend travelers may feel a bit more secure with the president's signature on the bill, but it won't do anything for the millions making the round trip to family gatherings by train, bus and other means of collective transportation that haven't been addressed yet.

Still, Americans being a clannish folk, travel on this weekend while perhaps not as heavy as in other years will still be substantial, as families follow Bush's advice of remaining alert but going ahead with business as usual, which at this particular time means family reunions.

The same no doubt will be true for the next major holiday on the calendar, Christmas. Here in Washington, where thousands of government workers come from out of town and will be leaving for home, there is also a traditional influx of tourists who take advantage of the Christmas break to bring their kids to see the great monuments and other special attractions of the nation's capital.

High on the list has always been the White House, which is decked out in special splendor every December for the parade of tourists who stand for hours, often in frigid weather, to walk through the first-floor rooms and see the magnificent Christmas trees and other decorations inside.

Only this year they won't be invited, a White House spokesperson says, "because of the ongoing security concerns." Although the Secret Service is especially well-equipped to screen visitors with the latest metal-detecting devices, it's been decided that this bit of Christmastime business as usual will have to be dispensed with.

The decision is perhaps a frivolous matter on which it is better to err on the side of caution. But it comes as the Bush administration is demonstrating an unsettling attitude of business out of the usual in a number of less frivolous things, especially in the realm of civil liberties.

The president's declared option of trying suspected terrorists under military rather than civil law and the holding of undisclosed numbers of suspects and possibly material witnesses without charges or arrests are very serious breaks from American normalcy, if not from constitutional guarantees.

The civil libertarians aren't likely to complain about pulling in the welcome mat from the White House over Christmas, but they're already squawking about these other new administration positions, which are based on arguments that belittle Bush's advice to the country not to let the terrorists scare us into changing the way we live.

The normal daily tours of the White House have been discontinued since six days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but District of Columbia government and tourism officials had hoped the Christmas tradition would go forward.

They are also up in arms over a new requirement of the National Park Service that only families with tickets will be able to attend the Dec. 6 traditional lighting of the huge outdoor Christmas tree that graces the Ellipse across the street from the back of the White House.

The District's nonvoting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, says the administration's message is "Don't come; stay home and hide," contradictory to the president's advice.

Open houses, however, will be held for families of high government officials, congressmen, firefighters, police and even the press corps. That, at least, is business as usual around the White House.


Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

11/12/01: Bush's latest pep talk
11/07/01: The blame game on airport security
11/05/01: Bellwether gubernatorial elections?
11/02/01: Feingold's complaint
10/31/01: Putting the cart before the horse?
10/29/01: Show business on economic stimulus
10/26/01: No political business as usual
10/24/01: Senatorial bravado
10/22/01: Split decision on gun rights
10/16/01: New York mayor's race: What kind of experience?
10/15/01: New York: Making a comeback
10/11/01: Giuliani: Fly in the election ointment
10/08/01: One or two New Yorks?
10/05/01: Providing your own security
10/01/01: Getting back to 'normal'
09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

© 2001, TMS