For President Bush, a number of big domestic issues doubtlessly beckon. In next year's State of the Union Address, he can re-launch, with vigor, his call for partial privatization of Social Security. Favored by his conservative base, increasingly acceptable to marginal Republican and Independent voters, and affecting almost all Americans, it meets the standard. Some form of dealing with ever-rising health costs is a perennial candidate for presidential championing (see Dick Gephardt's healthcare proposal.) But depending on the proposal, it could easily outrage the conservative base in the country. Other big issues, though not currently prominent with the electorate, are coming to grips with our shrinking industrial base, managing the vast unfunded pension obligations of both the public and private sector, and rebuilding and expanding our natural gas production and distribution capacity.
But I propose something completely different. We need a vast, volunteer citizen auxiliary to help law enforcement in civil defense. When (or, very optimistically, if) we are hit by a major, biological terrorist attack, hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans will needlessly die because we are currently incapable of managing the emergency services and law enforcement aftermath of such a tragedy. In gaming out the scenarios, of those test games with which I am familiar, there is always a meltdown -- not at the diagnostic level, but at the emergency services and law enforcement level. Much as the military has reserve forces to call upon in an emergency, we need legions of trained and organized private citizens who can be called up to assist emergency and law enforcement services in a crisis. During WWII, thousands of Londoners were trained and used for fire fighting, blackout management, nursing, etc. Particularly in big cities, but, given the interconnectedness of American life today, even in smaller towns, we need to prepare today to save lives tomorrow.
Shortly after September 11, many observers complained that President Bush had not called on the average American to sacrifice in the war on terrorism. The president was right, then, to reject such counsel implicitly on the ground that mere symbolic sacrifice is foolish and phony. But now, almost two years on, there is something real and badly needed that government cannot do alone. This is a doable project on a grand scale that will surely cost some billions of dollars to set up and manage, but may well save thousands or millions of lives when the dreaded day comes. Bringing into being such a program would be the finest example of the Washington maxim that good policy is good politics.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.