A little over a week ago, I ventured from my warm dry apartment out into the rain and walked a few short blocks to the building housing our local Police Athletic League for a scheduled press conference about something hailed as good news for the city of Manchester, NH. New funding had been authorized for Operation Streetsweeper, which is supposed to make us all safer by ridding the streets of Manchester of drugs and drug dealers. I had some questions I was prepared to ask — more prepared, I expected, than the politicians would be to answer them.
The mayor was going to be there and the chief of police, of course, the state’s attorney general and Major Domo himself, U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee and unofficial chairman of the Committee of Fiscal Conservatives Seeking to Fund Everything Imaginable, Albeit in Extreme Moderation. Yes, I was looking forward to questioning the good Dr. Gregg on the Drug Wars.
Why, you might ask, do I refer to the senator as "Dr." Gregg? Well he has an honorary Ph.D. from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, awarded by that small Benedictine school after Dr. Judd obtained the millions necessary to donate a former U.S. Army Reserve building to the college, renovate it and turn it into New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. The good monks of Saint Anselm pray for Dr. Judd daily, while chanting, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Federal Largesse."
But the $5 or $6 million or so that the Jolly Juddster corralled for that little project pales in comparison with the bacon (not "pork," mind you) he has brought home for the University of New Hampshire at Durham and Plymouth State University, two institutions of higher learning that have each named a building in honor of New Hampshire’s most famous fiscal conservative. Saving money doesn’t get a politician memorialized in stone. Hell, it doesn’t even make for a good press release.
But Gregg remains undefeated in New Hampshire politics and will either retire that way or die in office. He has even become so bold as to publicly defend earmarks. So I was prepared to ask him if the funding for Operation Streetsweeper is an earmark. That would have been interesting, because the presumptive 2008 presidential nominee of the Grand Old Party, John McCain, is famous for his opposition to earmarks.
But the Republican mayor of Manchester, the Hon. Frank Guinta, is fond of them, at least some of them. For no sooner did the Democrats gain a majority in Congress than did His Honor, the mayor, bewail the loss of the earmark for the Streetsweeper program. I mean, hot damn, what’s the point of becoming mayor of a whole damn city if you can’t have the fun and excitement of knocking down doors and making dynamic entry into people’s homes to find out if they have drugs.
Well, when I got to the PAL building at the appointed time, it was locked up and there were no officials in sight — only me and a reporter and cameraman from WBZ TV in Boston. (It was a slow news day.) The event had been postponed. We had not received the word. We returned, undaunted, to our other pursuits. Drug war called on account of rain.
But it wasn’t really the rain that occasioned the postponement of this historic event in the War on Drugs. The reason, I later learned, was that Sen. Gregg couldn’t make it because there was an important vote coming up in the senate and he had to stay there and vote for God’s sake! Accepting his accolades as drug warrior would have to wait.
That was too bad. I wanted to ask Jolly Judd about earmarks and the War on Drugs. Earmarks are funny things, you know, when we are talking about things like the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. But you can neither name nor imagine a "war" that Republicans are not eager to fund. Well, okay, maybe they were not all that enthusiastic about LBJ’s War on Poverty — not, anyway, until they discovered that, like a transportation bill, the War on Poverty would bring lots of federal dollars to every congressional district in America.
So just call a spending bill a "war" on something and you will likely have overwhelming Republican support. Republicans like wars — from a safe distance, of course. I dare to guess that Jolly Judd has been no closer to a drug raid than he has been to a combat operation. Neither is likely to occur in his neighborhood.
That is why he so blithely supports whatever overseas war any Republican president wishes to wage. The bombs will not fall anywhere near Judd’s home. Neither his wife nor children nor any of his grateful constituents will be anywhere near the "collateral damage." And that is why he supports the War on Drugs. Neither Judd’s home nor the homes of anyone in his social circle will be affected.
Others of us are not so fortunate. I live, as I said, just a few blocks from the Police Athletic League building where the press conference would have been held. If I could have steered the discussion toward earmarks, I would have pointed out that one of the virtues of the "bridge to nowhere" is that it does not run through my apartment. Operation Streetsweeper did once, though there was no warrant to search my residence. The warrant, I was later told, authorized a search of the apartment next to mine. Mine was a convenient shortcut.
Or the street sweepers simply made a wrong turn. And a "dynamic entry" through the front door, which did not lead to the targeted apartment, but by way of mine. Dynamic entry meant broken glass and things strewn about in the hallway. All of which was still there when the police had gone. Operation Streetsweeper has no clean-up detail.
I was not home the day the police came trespassing. I later said if I had known they were coming, I might have tidied the place up a bit. But they may come back, thanks to the funding Sen. Gregg has obtained. I don’t know what I should do to protect my home. If I had Sen. Gregg’s money, I might hire security guards. I would not know, of course, who their other clients were or what their sidelines were. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I were to hire drug dealers to protect me and my home from the storm troopers we pay with our tax dollars to protect us from drug dealers?
Maybe we could call all that an "economic stimulus package."
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.