When the going gets tough, the tough get popular

Posted: Oct 19, 2001 12:00 AM
Remember in the good old days before Sept. 11, 2001, when the psyche-probing question was: "Who would you rather have baby-sit your children, Bob Dole or Bill Clinton?" That was also before Monica Lewinsky, by the way, but never mind. It's the shallowness of the question rather than the answer that strikes one's memory of fancy. Deeper questions are circulating today, such as this one from a Zogby International poll: "In a time of crisis, who would you rather have in the White House, Bush or Clinton?" The answer, overwhelmingly, is President George W. Bush. In poll results released Thursday, Zogby found that a whopping 72 percent of Americans, including more than half of Democrats, preferred Bush, compared to only 20.3 percent for Clinton. The same poll also found that 69.9 percent preferred Dick Cheney for vice president, while 16.6 percent said they preferred Joseph Lieberman. Both polls were part of Zogby's daily "America at War" tracking service and are described as having a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percent. Suddenly George W. Bush, who "stole the election," who couldn't complete a sentence without inventing a word, who was the target of every comedy show and punch line in every late-night joke, is the man of the hour. Why do Americans now find him so appealing? Because they understand that in a time of crisis, Bush has the personal mettle and the professional staff to meet the challenge. Which begs the question: Why would we ever elect anyone who doesn't fit that profile? Why would Americans elect a man or woman whom they couldn't trust to muster the best defense possible against our enemies? Were we so naive as to suppose that we didn't have enemies? The rich and powerful always have enemies. Indeed, according to every Monday-morning quarterback in America, we did know that our current enemy was not only long-standing but planning a move. Even so, we found ourselves surprised. We greet each event - the World Trade Center collapse, the Pentagon assault, anthrax in the ventilation system - with debutante breathlessness. Gosh, Muffy, what will they do next?! Anything and everything they can to bring us down. That anxious feeling you have in your gut is called information. It's telling us to find within ourselves the same quality we suddenly admire in Bush. It's time to get tough and stay tough. Sen. John McCain addressed the U.S. Naval Academy a few days ago. His entire speech is worth several readings, (http://www.nadn.navy.mil/PAO/pressreleases/McCaine01.html), but eight one-syllable words spoke to me: "We must keep our nerve at all costs." Keep our nerve. Keep our conviction. Keep our minds focused. Keep fighting until we complete the task before us. "We should use no more force than necessary," McCain said, "but no less than necessary. Fighting this war in half measure will only give our enemies time and opportunity to strike us again. We must change and change permanently the mindset of terrorists, those who give them sanctuary and support, and those parts of Islamic populations who believe the terrorist conceit that they will ultimately prevail in a conflict with the West, that America has not the stomach to wage a relentless, long term and, at times, ruthless war to destroy them." That's about as clear as truth gets. We don't have time to second-guess this war, to worry over whether this really is a war, (it is), or whether, ohmigosh, people might get hurt. No one wants or plans to hurt civilians, but those folks out in Berkeley passing resolutions against violence are enjoying a luxury that someone has to defend with their lives. Of course, under the Taliban that they wish not to harm, they'd all be rounded up and shot. Sometimes non-violence gets you dead, which is why even Democrats are grateful Bush "stole" the election.