Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Safer Since 9/11? Wrong Question

It came up in the debate on Sunday and hasn’t gone away. The fact that the question is unanswerable is no impediment to Democratic candidates making it a campaign issue that will eventually hurt them all and help Republicans who have fewer scruples about using fear as a political weapon.

Hillary Clinton made the mistake of saying, “I believe we are safer than we were” to John Edwards’ bumper-sticker assertion that “the war on terror is a bumper-sticker slogan.”

Now the Clinton, Edwards and Obama campaigns are issuing position papers to one-up one another on a question the answer to which we have no way of knowing.

Safer how? There have been no domestic attacks since 9/11, but the various plots that have been publicized as thwarted have a whiff of self-serving inflation to them. (If this dire subject has any laughs in it, Nora Ephron found them the other day on the Huffington Post.)

After the alleged scheme to blow up fuel lines at JFK airport last week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to relax. “You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist," he said. But then Bloomberg isn’t running for President--yet.

What we do know is that most of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations have not been implemented, and books like Stephen Flynn’s “The Edge of Disaster” have been sounding the alarm about what can reasonably be done to make us safer. But how much safer is unknowable. The hard truth is that we have to live with an anxiety that did not exist before 9/11.

Taking political cheap shots on our very survival is the height of venality. If the candidates have specific workable proposals to enhance our safety, let’s hear them. Otherwise stop saying “Boo” to American voters. George Bush has been doing that for too long.

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