'Nothing is Certain But Death and Taxes' ...and Terrorism

So said Benjamin Frankin, with post script by Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge. Ridge tells us that terrorism is now a "permanent condition" of our lives, thus rounding out big government’s enduring holy trinity: death, taxes and terrorism. It has taken them a long time to sink to such depths that all they can promise is eternal violence, suffering and fear; and actually have the gall to expect us to accept it. Ridge’s "permanent condition" makes explicit President Bush’s statement that "the [anti-terrorism] campaign may not be finished on our watch."

History is full of stories of invading conquerors threatening populations under siege with a horrible fate in order to sap their will to resist, but the significance of a government offering such a bleak future to its own people is astounding. Where are the howls of protest? Was it just another day at the office for America’s editorial writers and news commentators? Are Americans so demoralized that they can’t recognize an insult to their intelligence, as well as a blatant attack on their personal pride and dignity? What if a company’s senior vice president announced to the gathered employees that pay cuts and layoffs are now a "permanent condition"? What if a school vice-principal announced that perpetually lower SAT scores are now a "permanent condition"? It sounds to me like an engraved invitation to get new management. That’s what happened when Jimmy Carter gave his infamous "national malaise" speech in 1979. The next year he was out of a job.

Our government should at least have the decency to explain how they will make us safer in the future. Isn’t that what we’re forced to pay them big bucks for? Are they now admitting their inability to fulfill their constitutional mandate to "provide for the common defense?" Instead Jim Pavitt, CIA Deputy Director for Operations, tells us that future terror attacks are inevitable, and so they are with his employer continuing to kill, maim, harass and otherwise mistreat people on five continents.

Americans didn’t used to put up with open-ended crusades out of Washington. As socialism swept the country in the early 20th century under the guise of "progressive" politics, our first such campaign was against demon alcohol, a.k.a. Prohibition. It took the American people (often on juries refusing to return guilty verdicts for alcohol-related crimes) fourteen years to put a stop to in 1933. Thirty years, and two costly Asian wars, were required for Americans to finally reject the Cold War propaganda message that fighting communism overseas was necessary to save freedom at home. Our War on Drugs has been running for more than twenty years, and though it’s generally considered a failure, Americans haven’t yet forced their government to abandon it. Only time will tell how long they will be permitted to spin out their new Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, but history shows that it will be for as long as possible.

It is fitting that Benjamin Franklin, who skeptically quipped that the new United States was to be "a republic if you can keep it," is also credited with the highly cynical (or satirical) assertion that "nothing is certain but death and taxes." But the republic is DOA and cynicism now rules the roost as each day big chunks of our lives are being newly politicized. Expounding on death and taxes, Ayn Rand’s fictional terrorist hero Ragnar Danneskjöld from Atlas Shrugged said, "there's nothing I can do about the first, but if I can lift the burden of the second, men might learn to see the connection between the two." Adding terrorism to the mix only makes her comment more timely, and urgent.

Much has been written comparing the Roman Empire to our own, but none so poignant, I think, as these words from Diane Alden: "As much as anything, Rome lost the ability to look beyond itself to the future. It lost its will along with the imagination and creativity that had helped to make it great. Rome was unable to envision the future free of corruption but rather accepted that corruption as inevitable." America, too, is in danger of being unable to "look beyond itself to the future." If Tom Ridge’s words go unanswered, perhaps the barbarians really are at the gates.

May 4, 2002

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