A recent headline in my local paper (The Hour, May 31, 2002) caught my eye: “Local traffic problems impede long-term growth: Residents have only themselves to blame for woes.” It seems the mayor of Norwalk, Alex Knopp*, had assembled a panel of “experts” to see who was to blame for the terrible traffic congestion in the city. The answer was… the residents! They need “look no further than their own driver’s seat when searching for the root cause of the horrendous traffic congestion in the area.” There is, they made clear, a lack of “long-term public transportation policies” that combines with a “cultural need to drive alone,” creating the traffic problem. A special culprit is “two-job families with a third car for the teenagers.”
If all of this seems reasonable to you, try to imagine a similar headline: “Hour-long lines at checkout counter impede growth of store: Customers have only themselves to blame.” The owner of the store has assembled a panel of experts, who conclude that shoppers need look no further than their own waistline when searching for the root cause of the long lines. A lack of long-term food policies and the unfortunate desire of people to eat three meals a day have caused the crisis.
Of course, we’d reject such nonsense! The customers of a business aren’t to blame for the failure of the business to provide adequate service. The storeowner is simply trying to cover up the fact that he can’t run a store properly. Furthermore, we’d rightly expect that within months, one or more new stores would open in the area and relieve him of his problem and his customers.
And there is the difference in our scenarios: The government, the failed provider of transportation, has essentially no competition in the road business. Moreover, since it collects the money to pay for the roads by force, it really doesn’t even matter to the government whether it fixes the problem. Every once in a while, it can convene a panel of experts to blame the customer (the taxpayer), and, in fact, use its failure to demand even more funding (e.g., for “long-term public transportation policies”).
The situation is not very different on the national level. On 9/11, when the US government failed in what is supposedly its primary job, protecting American citizens, it immediately began blaming us. Even though we’ve been paying over $300 billion a year for defense lately, Bush asked for a 15% increase in that amount. You see, we’ve just been too stingy!
We’ve also been too stingy with our liberty, as well. If only we weren’t so fussy about the FBI spying on us, airline security personnel groping us, and US military personnel patrolling our streets, we could get better service.
Not only that, but government officials assured us that no one could have imagined what happened on 9/11. However, as Bob Murphy noted, the terrorists had certainly been able to imagine it! Well, but no one else could have.
It turns out they were lying. Israel had imagined it, and had warned us. So had Russia, and Britain, and, as I heard on the news this morning, even Egypt. Not only that, but many people in our government had imagined it as well. The government’s top counter-terrorism official, Richard Clarke, told officials from a dozen government agencies last July: “Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” (Harley Sorensen, “Heads-Up To Ashcroft Proves Threat Was Known Before 9/11.”) John Ashcroft was told to stop flying commercial flights in July. FBI and CIA officials issued memos warning that Al Qaeda was planning something, that operatives were attending flight schools, and that it would involve a hijacking. On the radio recently I heard that on September 10th, the CIA picked up Al Qaeda “chatter” indicating that tomorrow was the “big day.”
With all of the advance word and $300 billion to spend protecting us, the government couldn’t stop the attacks. Even after two planes had hit the World Trade Center and it was known that two more planes had been hijacked and were in the air, the government couldn’t stop the headquarters of its own armed forces from being attacked 40 minutes later!
What’s more, after his administration has spent a billion dollars a month attacking Afghanistan, Dick Cheney assures us that we are no safer than we were on September 12th! Others have chimed in to express similar cheery thoughts. As Justin Raimondo notes:
Cheney… [said] it is “almost certain” that a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 is “not a matter of if, but when.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined in the fun, averring that “we should just face that reality,” while FBI Director Robert Mueller tried to top that with a flat out prediction that suicide bombings, as have occurred in Israel, were “inevitable” in the U.S.
And when those “inevitable” attacks come, you’ll know who is to blame: You are!
* An amusing aside: I first heard of Knopp while living in Norwalk seven or eight years ago. One day I received a letter from him, telling me he was my state representative. “Let me know,” the letter said, “if there is anything at all I can help you with.” Now here was a politician who cared! I called his office and left a message on his voicemail saying that, indeed, we could use some assistance: With my wife and I both working, we were falling way behind on the vacuuming, dusting, and so on. If he could just spare a few Saturdays, it would be a tremendous help. Curiously, I never heard back from him.