The latest kerfuffle concerns President Obama’s saying “We can absorb a terrorist attack.” As though this somehow bespeaks callousness or complacency. As columnist Ruth Marcus observes, should he have rather said we’d crumble if hit again?
Obama’s words were obviously commonsensical. Unfortunately, that’s not reflected in actual administration policy, which continues as though trying to prevent terrorist attacks is one of our highest priorities,
It is not. In fact, the billions spent on this is a colossal misdirection of resources. The truth is that terrorism can’t hurt us very much. In the big picture, not even a radiological or biological attack would bring the country to its knees. (The big danger from such an attack would be government overreaction.)
We face much bigger challenges. Such as falling behind on education. And just for some perspective, while terrorist deaths are tragic, in the past decade we lost a hundred times more people in auto accidents. We “absorb” that too – hardly even think about it. But just imagine how many lives could be saved if all those TSA employees rummaging through your luggage were instead tasked with working to improve road safety.
As Obama said, we did absorb the 9/11 attacks, and are stronger. His comment was actually a tribute to the American character. But that doesn’t stop people trying to manufacture an issue by twisting his words.
Such “gotcha” nonsense is a bane of our public life. Despite serious global issues on our plate, we are continuously distracted by stupid little ones (like mosque locations and Koran abuse). Local public radio boss Alan Chartock constantly natters about “the politics of distraction,” as though some sinister forces cunningly cook up these side issues deliberately to distract us from larger ones. That’s utter rubbish. No – the fact is that we are too easily bewitched by issues that engage our simplistic reptilian reflexes. Thinking about how to respond to globalization’s economic challenges, for example, is hard work. Much easier to think about where a mosque should or shouldn’t be built.*
*I plead guilty, I did a blog post about that issue myself.