It is almost axiomatic that politicians will respond to criticism - excessively. So it seems to be even with President Bush, whose historical unwillingness to play by the rules was one of his cap's brightest feathers.
The Rules, in this case, refers to the assumption - by other politicians and especially the media - that an aspiring or elected official will dance when the chorus says, "Dance!" From the beginning, Bush, whatever else his strengths and flaws, refused to be jerked by the puppeteers.
When the media insisted, for instance, that he spill the beans about his youthful indiscretions regarding drug and alcohol use, he declined, saying, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."
Bush explained his refusal in terms other baby boomer parents understood. He had kids; he didn't want to "share," bless his heart. As a fellow boomer parent, I supported his position. As I've told my own son: "When we're both adults, we'll trade war stories. For now, I'm the boss, do as I say, and barring perfection, at least be wise."
Anticipating the hypocrite cop assault, I hastily amend: I also said President Clinton owed no one an explanation of his personal sex life. Only after the Starr interrogations took root did I insist he tell the truth as soon as possible. It was clear, as Clinton should have seen, that certain parties weren't going to give up until they could quantify the presidential sperm count.
Thanks to Clinton's stubborn refusal to say, "Yeah, I did it, now go away," parents were stuck discussing oral sex with their kids. You cannot truly appreciate the fathomless depths of ennui until you have had this particular chat with your pre-pubescent offspring.
But recent events - specifically criticism that the Bush administration failed to properly calculate and inform the American public about terrorist risks - apparently have made Bush change his tune. Suddenly terrorist warnings are as ubiquitous as e-mail Viagra ads. (Does anyone else's e-mail suggest that all of America owns his/her own Web cam and that absolutely every living male is under-endowed, or is it just me?)
During a week or so immediately following the "Bush Knew" onslaught, administration officials took turns warning Americans about, oh, just everything.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a Senate committee that terrorists "inevitably" will obtain weapons of mass destruction. Vice President Dick Cheney told television audiences that another terrorist strike was "almost certain." FBI Director Robert Mueller said that suicide bombings in the United States are "inevitable."
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said that more terrorist attacks are "not a question of if, but a question of when."
They (start italics)are?!(end italics) Couldn't we just skip the when/inevitable/certainty part, and prevent these "folks" from hurting us again? Or, are we being just a little too cautious in the name of covering our backsides?
Not that any of these warnings are any more specific than the ones last summer that Bush is accused of not responding to sufficiently. None of these predictions qualifies as mind-bogglingly insightful. It's pretty safe to say that someday every nation will have weapons of mass destruction. Who doesn't know?
Nevertheless, when the first dirty bomb goes off in Atlanta, no one can accuse Bush of failing to warn us. It was right there on C-Span. When the first suicide bomber wanders into Rockefeller Center, they told us so. Ditto for biological infections, contaminations and other sci-fi horror scenarios.
You get the uneasy feeling that Bush's daily briefing now goes like this: "OK, fellows, what warnings have you got for me today? Scare the livin' daylights out of 'em, that'll shut 'em up. Let's roll!"
Americans aren't clueless, and some have noted that there sure are a lot of warnings out there these days. The obvious question is: What are we supposed to do about it, shop? Travel more? Book those fall Broadway tickets early?
No, we're supposed to feel gypped by politics as usual. Warnings that don't mean anything aren't useful. Politicians who pretend to the higher moral ground in demanding More Information in the name of America's right to know aren't helpful.
Bush should stick to his own ground and decline to play puppet. He should tell us when there's a true terrorist threat, and otherwise devote his energies to making sure our enemies fail.