How panic gripped official Washington last week
Washington: The panic that gripped official Washington when a small civilian plane strayed into the capital’s no-fly area was nowhere more evident than on television where some announcers asked with indignation why the Air Force didn’t just shoot the plane down.
In the end, it turned out to be nothing though it drove 35,000 people on to the street, had the vice president and the First Lady whisked away to safe locations and found Congressmen and Senators rush out of their offices in disarray.
In a sharply-worded commentary, Bill Van Auken of the Word Socialist Website, asks if the panic was merely a reflex security measure, or were political calculations involved. He also wonders what the evacuation reveals about the state of American democracy. Pointing out that it was not the first such incident, he notes that such incursions have been common, and wonders “what accounts for the atmosphere of hysteria this time around?” He writes that “the Bush administration has persistently sought to terrorise the American public into accepting its policies by invoking a supposedly omnipresent terrorist danger. Under conditions in which the administration confronts a rising tide of opposition to its militarist aggression abroad and attacks on social conditions at home, it is entirely probable that orders have been given to treat even the smallest incident as if it were a major terrorist attack.”
Van Auken believes that the manner in which Wednesday’s incident was dealt with has ominous implications for basic democratic rights and procedures in the United States. Recalling that Article 1 of the US constitution calls Congress the “first branch” of the American government, meant to most closely reflect the will of the people, he observes that the portrait of this body Wednesday was one of “impotence and cowardice, its members running in terror over the possibility that a small aircraft might be headed their way.” He notes that none of them, neither Democrat nor Republican, had either the inclination or the courage to demand to know why what is on paper the most powerful body in the land was being sent packing. He quotes House Speaker Dennis Hastert telling CNN, “I was on the floor of the House like everyone else.” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said she was “pulled right out of her shoes,” then added, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Van Auken writes, “It does not seem to occur to the Democratic congressional leader that there are some things more important than personal safety. At least for her and her colleagues, the independence and political integrity of Congress are certainly not among them. The ever-increasing erosion of congressional power and the consolidation of authority in the hands of the presidency has been going on for decades. Over the past four-and-a-half years, however, this process has accelerated immensely, as the Democrats have accepted the installation of an unelected President, backed a criminal war and collaborated in a sweeping assault on fundamental democratic rights.” khalid hasan