Happy New Year! 2004 may become known as the year that the newly created Department of Faith-Based Homeland Anxiety helped George W. Bush slip back into the White House.
At the very end of 2003, Tom Ridge, the Minister of Homeland Security raised the national alert level from yellow to orange.
â€œItâ€™s an orange alert again,â€ I told my wife. â€œWe better take the proper precautions against a terrorist attack.â€
â€œShould we stop watering the lawn?â€ she asked, â€œor not call the plumber when the toilet is leaking? Maybe, we should stay indoors, except when absolutely necessary â€“ like going to the liposuction clinic. And donâ€™t forget to keep our guns cocked and alarm system on full battery charge 24 hours a day.â€
â€œWhatever you do,â€ she jabbed sarcastically, â€œdonâ€™t check suspicious books out of the library on yellow, orange or red color coded days and make sure that the used book store owner doesnâ€™t actually write down the title of any of the paperbacks you buy there â€“ like The Case of the Poisoned Well Water.â€
â€œAnd for goodness sake, donâ€™t buy an almanac.â€
â€œThereâ€™s an AP story in the December 30 LA Times that says the FBI sent a Christmas eve bulletin to 18,000 police organizations warning them to watch out for people carrying almanacs, because terrorists may use them â€˜to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.â€™â€
â€œAnd,â€ she shouted as I tried to escape, â€œ if you have an almanac, donâ€™t write in it, because the cops will be watching for people with such books at traffic stops and if you have the name of a tall building underlined, your ass is grass Cass. And stop looking so worried.â€
Itâ€™s bad enough that I feel totally inadequate after each dayâ€™s message barrage from radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, internet pop ups, email spam and billboard signs, but now I feel apprehensive about going anywhere. What does that add up to? High orange alert on the day my daughter is due to fly in from New York.
â€œOh, itâ€™s just that uptight Tom Ridge playing with his M&Ms,â€ a cynical friend remarked. â€œIf he has information about a terrorist attack on the United States, why doesnâ€™t he tell us the details? Or is it that he wants to share the information only with the terrorists, not the intended victims?â€
What happened to brown? I ask myself. Does chocolate signify contentment? Is that why Ridge de-selected it from his otherwise perfect M&M choices? Indeed, arch right wing southern California Republican Congressman Christopher Cox supposedly compared the utility of Ridgeâ€™s color code system to that of a toboggan in Baghdad.
No matter, I wrung my hands, as did millions of other. I had memorized my color chart. The low risk days of course merit a green; generalized risk is blue. Yellow means significant peril and orange â€“ like the warning color on traffic lights â€“ means high risk if you go ahead. Red? Donâ€™t even think about it.
How does one handle all of this? The descriptions donâ€™t give enough details.
Millions of Americans, however, did line up for endless â€œsecurity checksâ€ at airports and shopping malls, and any other site that â€œsecurityâ€ authorities could conjure.
Just before the end of the year, the â€œsecurityâ€ bosses forced the cancellation of several flights from Paris to Los Angeles and demanded armed guards on overseas flights.
Coast Guard boats sped back and forth across the main harbors. Armed guards patrolled bridges and reservoirs. Others manned posts at key electrical grids. Guns and flak jackets, radios and other gadgets hung from their vests and belts. Security!
A friend and former sailor asked one of the cost guard officials what he and his crew were looking for as they cruised between Santa Barbara and Oxnard on the California coast.
â€œDamned if I know,â€ the officer said. â€œNo one told us what to look for. They just ordered us to carry out 24 hour patrols during the high orange alert period. We didnâ€™t see anything but a small possible marijuana boat. But my crew and I didnâ€™t get to spend Christmas at home with our families.â€
I found it hard to focus: The cacophony of jingle bells blaring from the speakers of mall stores, demands that I buy now â€“ whatever it is — before prices go up and the ever present warnings of impending terrorist violence. So, I turned on the TV, the best way to enjoy distraction. I watched the well conditioned and steroid laden men break each otherâ€™s bones and tear ligaments, listened to the intricate analysis of the strategy behind these â€œreal machoâ€ games â€“ by those who used to play and survived in more or less one piece.
I watched a rerun of The Sopranos to feel assured that Mafia dons feel the same anxieties that ordinary people suffer–problems with wives, kids, treacherous associates and former girlfriends. And then, with baited breath, I along with 18 million of my countrymen and women absorbed the wisdom and wit of Michael Jackson as he told his side of the story to Ed Bradley on the December 28 60 Minutes.
Ironically, this was nine million less than had watched last Februaryâ€™s ABC special, Living With Michael Jackson. That program, of course, was aired before the family of Michaelâ€™s former child friend turned on him. Apparently, and this is a truly important rumor on which to focus, Michael has turned over the management of his assets and media appearances to the Nation of Islam. That alone, which was quickly denied and then reasserted, and endless shopping of course, should spur enough mindless conversation to help us distract ourselves from the omnipresent dread of: when will the next terrorist attack that Ridge assures us is inevitable occur?
â€œHave faith,â€ the KKLA AM radio preacher advised as His way to deal with this insecurity. â€œFaith in Jesus will lead you from the darkness of selfish worrying about your own safety and into the light of salvation.â€
Yes, I think. Have faith in Jesus and forget all your doubts and worries, all the unanswered questions. Stop thinking altogether and let mellow voiced AM radio preacher John MacArthur program your mind and your behavior. Just try his â€œhow-to plan to help relieve anxiety and depression and guide you to a more trusting God honoring life. Find deep seated satisfaction, no matter what youâ€™re facing.â€
I await the answer as the program ends and another radio preacher intones.
â€œThereâ€™s something better than Moses, better than Freud, better than Prozac. Thatâ€™s Jesus.â€
Florida has just opened a faith-based prison. How many hardened murderers and rapists will find Jesus in the hole?
Donâ€™t laugh. Faith has delivered President Bush from his alcoholism, or at least thatâ€™s what he claims. People who had violent pasts, like the late Eldridge Cleaver, found faith in Jesus. Indeed, Nixon trickster Chuck Colson even started a born-again group of A-types when he got out of prison after serving time for his hanky panky against the Democrats while serving in the White House.
In the evening, I fell asleep and dreamed that Colson launched a campaign to recruit heavy duty sinners in 2004. Colson even reached Saddam Hussein with the message of salvation — before he went to trial. The former Iraqi dictator, seeing the light, became a born-again Muslim for Jesus. The Bush re-election campaign employed him as the big draw at fundraisers for the truly kinky Republican set. An evening with Saddam Hussein was worth at least 25K for the re-election campaign.
In the dream, the President addressed skeptical members of his campaign staff: â€œIâ€™m a forgiving man. Saddam has confessed his sins â€“ and they were truly terrible. But now he has earned Godâ€™s forgiveness. I turned to Jesus and I was forgiven. We must now allow this sinner â€“ even if he is an A-rab — to receive Godâ€™s blessings.â€
â€œHallelujah!â€ they shouted.
The dream moved toward total nightmare. To provide non-financial help for his re-election â€“ Godâ€™s wish â€“ Bush formalized the Department of Faith Base Homeland Anxiety led by Minister Pat Robertson Jr. He hired Saddam Hussein as a â€œconsultantâ€ to appear on TV to tell Americans of what horrors they will face if â€œa weak Man (any Democrat) wins the presidency.â€
The Democratic candidates squabbled over exactly which of them he meant by â€œweak.â€
â€œWake up,â€ my wife screamed. â€œYouâ€™re having a bad dream.â€
â€œI hope itâ€™s only a dream,â€ I told her, â€œand not one of those biblical prophecies.â€
Landauâ€™s new book is THE PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSHâ€™S KINGDOM. His new film is SYRIA: BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.