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POLITICS AS USUAL (By JIm Baron) When government gets it right

May 8, 2011

Late Sunday night was one of those “Moments,” a piece of time when you will never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the announcement that Osama bin Laden was dead, and U.S. commandoes killed him.
Satisfying as that was, the best part about it was a few minutes later, when Americans of all shapes and sizes and all walks of life spontaneously gathered outside the White House gates, at Ground Zero and in Times Square and other places, waving U.S. flags, shouting “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” and otherwise reveling in a common triumph for our country, the other bookend to the common grief, sorrow and anger we shared back on September 11 ten long years ago.
That’s why the next day was such a disappointment when the cranks, nutjobs and conspiracy theorists came out from under their rocks and started insisting they wouldn’t believe it until they see all kinds of proof they are never going to get. You just know this is going to create a cottage industry of books, Internet sites and mail order DVDs about how this never really happened and the raid on Osama’s hideout was done in the same TV studio where they faked the moon landing.
I have spent more than a dozen years covering the Rhode Island Statehouse, so believe me, I know all about having a healthy skepticism of government. Yes, a wary eye should be cast on many things the government says or does. Government and government officials are sometimes duplicitous, overly secretive, incompetent and corrupt; they are ALWAYS self-serving, self-promoting and self-congratulating.
But at both the state and federal levels (might as well throw in the locals as well) they are not as malignant as they are often made out to be. We have to stop treating our government as our enemy. That is every bit as self-defeating as it sounds.
Unfortunately, that seems to be what is coming out of what should be the united celebration of the heroic accomplishment of Seal Team VI.
Would it kill the doubters and conspiracy theorists and government haters to, just once, say “Yeah, that was a good one; they got it right this time”? There isn’t always a grassy knoll to point to.
Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself can not stand,” but that is what America is quickly becoming. It would be counterproductive to turn this essay into a piece of partisan finger pointing, but it is only historical fact that this anti-anything-government stuff really got its most recent momentum with Ronald Reagan’s famous, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Republican officeholders and candidates have echoed that trope ever since and now the Tea Parties have raised it to an art form. Reagan was specifically talking about the country’s economic troubles at the time, but the quote has been misused to include anything and everything government touches.
I’m not going to get all red, white and blue and start babbling about how this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people (Abe again), but it is a fact that we elect all of these politicians we profess to distrust so. If the public servants that we choose do not serve us properly, we have to accept a big chunk of blame for that, especially when we elect them a second, third and fourth time.
If the killing of Osama were a hoax, the announcement would have been much smoother.
The White House had it nicely planned for the president to tell the world about it at about 10:45 Eastern Time, so it would dominate the 11 p.m. news (it was also nicely timed for the networks to cut in and for NBC to pre-empt the last 15 minutes of Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice, but I’m sure that was just a happy coincidence), but then dribbled it away by not having the president come on until after 11:30 or so, allowing a slew of anchormen and women to break the news instead of President Obama.
With that delay — especially considering that members of Congress were being informed — it was inevitable that the news was going to leak out before the president strode up to that lectern in the East Room.
Killing bin Laden, unfortunately, doesn’t end the War on Terror, but, it does close a chapter. Like the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs, the War on Terror is never going to end, not as long as there is one misguided soul willing to strap explosives to himself and go to a mall or airport or any other crowded space. You can defeat another country, but you can not defeat an idea. How would we know when we had won a War on Terror? Whose surrender would we accept? Not bin Laden’s, not any more.
It might be a good idea to use bin Laden’s death, though, as a catalyst for getting American troops un-mired from Afghanistan.
Congressman David Cicilline took heat last week for saying in a speech on the House floor: "My Rhode Island constituents have grown rightfully weary of this irresponsible war." Well, as one of Cicilline’s Rhode Island constituents, I have grown rightfully weary of this irresponsible war.
If we were to simply bug out of Afghanistan this afternoon — everybody get on a plane or a helicopter and let’s get the hell out of here — the Taliban and the warlords would be back in charge in six to eight months. If we follow President Obama’s timetable and start gradually pulling out this summer, the Taliban and the warlords would be back in charge in six to eight months. And if we spent another 25 years there, nation-building and squandering the lives of our soldiers and trillions from our treasury doing all the “right” things, the Taliban and the warlords would be back in charge in six to eight months.
As the cop said to Jack Nicholson at the end of the movie: “Forget it Jake — it’s Chinatown.”

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