Jewish World Review May 22, 2002/ 11 Sivan, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The tar and feathers
seem to be missing | We should retire the noble eagle. He has served the nation well as the national emblem for two centuries, but the old bird has outlived his time.

The nation's capital, if not yet the fruited plain, has become an infestation of magpies, as events of the past four days demonstrate. The magpies are spoiling the public peace as well as windshields, lawns and public spaces.

No sooner had someone, probably someone on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked that vague and ambiguous intelligence memorandum suggesting that Arab bad guys might (or might not) be planning to hijack passenger airliners, than most of the Democrats, the usual quota of Republican weenies and party hacks began girding for another impeachment, or at least a lynching.

Rep. Richard Gephardt, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House, had hot flashes most of Friday and Saturday, charging about in divers directions, but by Sunday morning, having read the Sunday papers to discover that nobody was following him with a bucket of tar and a sack of feathers, his feet almost reached the ground again.

"I never, ever, ever thought that anybody, including the president, did anything up to September 11 other than their best," he told the Sunday television talk-show interlocutors. How could anyone have got such a ridiculous idea?

This is certainly not what he was saying last week, when the Democrats thought they had at last found a big and dirty stick with which to cudgel George W. Bush just as spring was about to give way to summer and then autumn, and the November elections.

"Was there a failure of intelligence?" he demanded with well-rehearsed outrage. "Did the right officials not react on the intelligence in a proper way? These are things we need to find out."

Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, flailed about in equally high dudgeon. "Why did it take eight months for us to receive the information? I'm concerned about whether or not the public was adequately protected."

Hillary Clinton, abandoning her role as America's sweetheart to become the gray eminence of Gotham, announced that she had had an epiphany and would henceforth be an expert on national security. Osama bin Laden was the president's fault. (She didn't say which president.)

But when everyone had taken his Midol, with a nice lie-down to let the palpitations subside, everything changed. Maybe George W. hadn't spent the summer reading Spider-Man comics, after all. The more thoughtful among us recognized that the fault was one of nonchalance, not negligence, and not just George W.'s nonchalance, either. If there was blame to be fixed on the president, it would have to start with a Democratic president. (Why didn't Hillary use her pillow-talk time to get her man to pay attention to something besides the bra sizes of the interns?)

And if it's vague and non-specific warnings, color-coded or not, that everyone wants, we're getting them now. The vice president warned on Sunday that the prospects of another attack are almost a certainty: "It could happen tomorrow, it could happen next week, it could happen next year, but they will keep trying and we have to be prepared." That ought to just about cover everything.

But if not, there's more. The sheriff of Orange County, Fla., warned that evil-doers could easily poison the water supply in Orlando. Hey, said a legislative committee in Albany, that's nothing: The water supply in New York City, which serves 9 million people even if it doesn't serve Disney World, is so vulnerable that "it's startling." Tom Ridge, the nation's security chief, warned that foreigners might be trying to rent apartments in high-rise buildings just to pack them with explosives, and Condoleezza Rice said the intelligence agencies are picking up "increased chatter" about disasters that may or may not be in the works. (It was only yesterday that the editors of the major newspapers were importuned by the White House never to print anything about intelligence chatter.)

And who knows what else the government's intelligence agencies are picking up. Some of it, like the evidence that a Clinton committee headed by Al Gore picked up and was told to ignore lest someone be accused of "racial profiling," is no doubt something the political types at the White House, trolling for the votes of American Muslims, would just as soon everyone forget.

Dick Cheney is warning the Democrats not to move forward with an investigation of the intelligence failures, such as they were, and with his usual avuncular firmness. But there's more than a little suspicion that he's working from the playbook by Uncle Remus. "Please, Mr. Fox, don't throw me in the briar patch." Such an investigation, led by the usual windbags, could be just what the White House ordered to put this little storm over the Potomac out of its misery.

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

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