»  National Review Online

May 24th, 2002

  Better Dead Than Rude


In a break from packing my bag to fly off to the West Coast on one of those large planes loaded up to the gills with jet fuel — the kind that has so much appeal to enterprising suicide terrorists — I do my daily round-up of news items. Let's see, whaddawe got.

"There will be another terrorist attack. We will not be able to stop it," FBI Director Mueller told the National Association of District Attorneys meeting in suburban Alexandria, Va. "It's something we all live with."

Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaking amid new warnings of attacks on the United States, confirmed reports that about two dozen "extremists" had recently entered America hidden in container ships and were now on the loose.

Vice-President Dick Cheney told Meet the Press: "In my opinion the prospects of a future attack on the United States are almost certain."

Of course, the Director of the FBI, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the VPOTUS could all be blowing smoke. I am going to predicate my column on the proposition that this is not the case, and that these three gentlemen very likely know what they are talking about.

Back in early October last year, a blond female columnist whose name is an anagram of "CLEAN OUT NR" wrote a piece for Human Events under the title: "Future Widows of America: Write Your U.S. Congressman." The lady, who has considerable expertise in constitutional law, argued that: "Congress has authority to pass a law tomorrow asking aliens from suspect countries to leave." She further argued that it ought to do so, and that "When the Sears Tower is attacked … or Disneyland nuked, remember: Congress could have stopped it, but didn't."

Watching Dick Cheney on Meet the Press last Sunday, I found myself unable to doubt that the administration has done all it feels it can do to prevent another attack on us. Cheney has that effect on me. He makes me feel that if I have thought of something, he's probably thought of it first. So let's take that as a premise, too: the administration, including the most thoughtful, intelligent and well-informed among them, honestly feel they have done all they can to prevent us losing a plane, an office tower, a theme park, a city.

The problem is, of course, that anyone can come up with perfectly lawful things the authorities might do to vastly improve the nation's security. They might, for example, follow AUNT CLONER's advice and politely ask all visitors from an obvious list of nations to leave. Nothing wrong with that: we are not, as a nation, under any moral, ethical, legal or constitutional obligation to play host to visitors from other countries. Or our government might deploy the military on the borders, as they are entitled to (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8). Or they might offer a bounty to any citizen who reports a visitor overstaying his visa, or who files a report leading to a terrorism-related conviction. There are all sorts of things they might do.

On the premisses stated above — that the administration is not composed of liars or fools — it can only be the case that they do not do any of these things because they believe them to be politically impossible. They believe, in other words, that the American people would not stand for seeing (to take one example) Saudi visitors and students being asked to leave. Or, at a minimum, they believe that such actions, if initiated, could be spun by skillful operators to the great political disadvantage of the administration.

That last one is not necessarily a base or self-serving point of view. Bush and Cheney probably believe that their War on Terror would be vitiated by major domestic controversies, and they don't want those kinds of distractions. The fact remains: they believe that any strong measures — let me emphasize that I am talking here about things that are perfectly and obviously constitutional, and could easily be solidified into laws by act of Congress — are politically impossible.

And I am sure they are right. Actions that our government might take, and laws that our representatives might pass, none of them obviously unconstitutional or inhumane, are just not politically possible. Cheney and Co. believe they have done everything that they can, in all political possibility, do, and I think their belief is correct. And: "There will be another terrorist attack" (Mueller). And: Two dozen extremists are on the loose (Graham). And: "The prospects of a future attack on the United States are almost certain" (Cheney).

The state we have sunk to, after 30 years of political correctness, is that we would rather permit ourselves and our fellow citizens to be slaughtered by lunatics than run the risk that we might hurt the feelings of foreign guests. Our dogged belief that every culture is just as worthy and admirable as every other will admit of no exceptions; it even extends to those cultures where children are raised from infancy to hate Jews and the Great Satan. Said LONE CAR NUT last October: "Ordinary Americans aren't going to die for political correctness." Oh, yes we are, Ma'am — gladly, willingly! We far prefer an agonizing death to the possibility we might give offense to the differently religioned. Here in what my colleague Florence King calls "The Republic of Nice" we have reached the reductio ad absurdum of racial sensitivity: Better dead than rude.

I wrote a piece a few days ago arguing that the U.S. will not go to war against Iraq. A lot of people e-mailed in with variants of: "You're right. It's going to take another 9/11 before we get serious." That is a horrible thought, and a horrible thing to say, but an awful lot of people are thinking and saying it. Perhaps it's true. Perhaps it even falls short of the truth: perhaps it will take a whole string of these horrors to wake us from our poisonous fantasies of infinite tolerance and cultural relativism. Or perhaps nothing will.

And so, as I go back to packing my bag (clean underwear, dental floss, cell phone), I wonder if it will be my plane next, or my wife's mall, or my kids' school. Well, if it's my turn, thank God that I can at least die with a clear conscience: I never profiled anybody.