Cowardice in Washington?
October 23, 2001 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Cowardice in Washington? Joan Ryan, of the SF Chronicle, takes congress to task for abandoning the capitol at the first sign of danger. Is hiding in a bunker 'letting the terrorists win?'
posted by housepox (14 comments total)
This post might seem a little off topic from the posted article, and I apologize in advance

I'm getting tired of this name-calling cowardice crap honestly. As a liberal of the bleeding-heart persuasion, I would love to rag on Republicans at almost any opportunity (especially Ari Fleischer). However, I can't do it this time. First of all, if I was a House Rep or even just a staffer, I would be very nervous right now. If the House needs (a reasonable amount of) time to make sure that their people are safe, I don't see why we should criticize.

However, the bigger reason why this name-calling upsets me is because
A) that's all it You can't prove someone a coward in a situation like this
B) it is terribly divisive. It's the mother of all ad hominem attacks. This might especially hurt/anger members of the House who served in the Armed Forces or who otherwise see themselves as having a proven record of bravery.
C) it might be counter-productive. If someone dies in the Senate from anthrax while the House is in recess, the situation becomes quite reversed, and now the Senate leadership would come under sharp attack.

Basically, I suppose I'm pissed too at the fact that the Democrats in the Senate are acting very badly, and pissing away political capital at a time when they need all they can get to battle the ANWR-drilling and the corporate tax breaks that the Republicans have just discovered to be vital to the war-effort.
posted by thewittyname at 8:14 AM on October 23, 2001

I work at the Library of Congress, across the street from the Capitol and linked to the House and Senate office buildings by tunnels. We've been out of work since Thursday. I'm ready to go back, yes, but I was VERY happy at the decision to close the buildings for a sweep by the CDC. Let me tell you--it's easy to sit back and call us cowards, but when you're at ground zero, when people who handle your mail are dying, it seems wise and prudent to take a few days off.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:19 AM on October 23, 2001

One of her targets, Dick Cheney, didn't deserve it at all. I think it is a routine precaution in any circumstance where an attack by a weapon of mass destruction is suspected for the VP to be kept separate from the President. The reason Cheney was taken away from Washington was so that if Washington got nuked we'd still have a government. He is the replacement President. That is his job. And he can't perform it if he's killed in the same attack that takes the President out.

In fact, it's been routine for a long time for the President and VP not to ever be near each other in public. The VP never flies on Air Force One, for example; he's got his own jet. (It's called Air Force Two and it doesn't get anything like as much publicity.)

Cheney vanished not because he was a coward but because it was his duty to do so. Unlike the House, Cheney doesn't have the luxury of trying to appear to be brave.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:28 AM on October 23, 2001

I too work in DC, in the Russel Senate Office Building. I tell you last week as the news about the anthrax started coming in, we were all concerned. We received numerous pep-talks stating that our job functions were extremely important to the function of the Senate, that if we backed down that we'd be succumbing to the terrorist intent. On Wednesday I was personally very sick to my stomach with the thought that it was unsafe to be working in that building. I'm not normally a worrier, and was relieved that we were relocated. I did not realize how much it was affecting me until I was in a different building, in a different city, breathing great big full breaths. I didn't know that I wasn't breathing right until the relief came in the form of new environment. I'm sure it has affected everyone in different ways, but this is my point-of-view.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2001

I certainly don't blame people for being scared and wanting to leave their buildings. I work in DC, and on the 11th, I wanted to get out of the city and couldn't conceive of doing work in my office.

However, I have been feeling that the general message from the Federal government is that 'we're more important than you common folk.' I flew out of the recently re-opened National Airport last week and out of BWI the week before. National's security was markedly greater than the security at BWI, and as I understand it, as Boston's Logan and Virginia's Dulles. For example, at National, passengers are not allowed out of their seats within 30 minutes of take off. A similar rule applies to flights into National. Passengers are randomly selected to be 'wanded' and to have their carry-on baggage inspected. On my return flight, a bomb sniffing dog had to inspect the gate area and plane before we could even enter the gate (because, we were told, it's a flight to National. No other gate had this type of activity.)

So what's a citizen to think? The planes used on the 11th came from Boston and Dulles, not National. The planes hit buildings in NYC, but these precautions are not taken for NYC-bound flights. If these precautions are appropriate, they are appropriate for all airports, not just National. Are politicians more equal than others?
posted by Red58 at 9:14 AM on October 23, 2001

see, if there was anthrax in my workplace, i wouldn't care what my boss said. i'd be at home, in my pajamas, eating popcorn and watching my stories. i think MrMoonPie and TuxHeDo have given the best responses to this article thus far, because they're living the experience. there's no contract you sign AFAIK, when working as a civilian, to PUT YOU IN DANGER needlessly.
you can't help if someone comes into your office brandishing a gun, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't duck. there's no logical reasoning behind the thought that letting your workplace get swept for a biological weapon, and then returning after the all clear, is an act of cowardice. i'd like to see what this woman would do if they found anthrax in the sf gate offices. somehow i don't think she'd sit there in the newsroom, all by herself, taking deep breaths.
posted by sugarfish at 9:20 AM on October 23, 2001

The contradictory soundings last week reflect more of the rivalry between the House and the Senate than any particular party bias. It looks as if the Senators regard the Representatives as grubby politicos; the Reps regard the Senate as a collection of pompous arseholes.
posted by holgate at 9:26 AM on October 23, 2001

All these "brave" reporters who call the leaders wimps!

If you have friends who work or volunteer on Capitol Hill, as I do. I think you might call them smart leaders.
posted by brucec at 10:14 AM on October 23, 2001

I read this much differenly. I don't think she's attacking staffers (and I totally agree with the at home w/ stories post). I think her point is that the elected officials, and those encouraging us not to let the terrorists win, seem quite good at talking the talk, but incapable of following through on it when placed at personal risk.
posted by housepox at 10:43 AM on October 23, 2001

Oh, I don't know if we should really castigate these Republicans too much. Both "Barksdale" Bush and "Deferment" Dick Cheney seem really brave and all. Undoubtedly they rely on their Vietnam War experience to provide the examples of service and bravery their underlings need right now.

Then, of course, there is this...undoubtedly just a simple misunderstanding. Bush's cabinet was supposed to get on those planes and show those cowardly terrorists our skies were still safe. Guess there were a few problems...
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:57 AM on October 23, 2001

The Representatives weren't really at risk much. They almost all go home Friday-Monday to be with in their districts.

Can you imagine the public relations fiasco if they had all gone home (as normal) and required their staffs to work in a possibly dangerous environment.

Yes, it might be cowardly and letting the terrorists win if they closed the building because their might be an attack. I don't see how it is cowardly or letting the terrorists win if they close the building to assure that an attack has been contained.
posted by obfusciatrist at 1:53 PM on October 23, 2001

You hit the nail on the head, ofbusciatrist. Congressmen and -women, unlike Senators, are campaigning all the time. They have to take any chance they can to go home. When it's even close to a legitimate health/terror risk, it makes perfect sense for them to take off and be with their constituencies.

I find it surprising that a newspaperwoman can become a political columnist without learning such simple facts about how our government works. And that nobody working for the SF Chronicle would point out to Joan Ryan or her editors what amounts to an embarrassing blunder founded in gross ignorance.

I just took a better look at the column in question. Clearly Joan Ryan has a following or she wouldn't be published. Are her readers actually that dumb? They sure are uncritical.

This post may be gratuitous, but that column was utter $#!+. Shame on the Chronicle, and Joan Ryan, whoever she is.

posted by dfowler at 2:41 PM on October 23, 2001

Cheney vanished not because he was a coward but because it was his duty to do so.

His duty to separate from the president, perhaps, but I don't see the responsibility to "vanish."
posted by rushmc at 3:47 PM on October 23, 2001

Given that the Vice President has no official constitutional duties other than resolving tie votes in the Senate and remaining ready to assume the Presidency, I'm not really concerned about it. The most cynical I can get about it is that it's yet another reflection of the concern the Bush administration has that he appear to be his own man and not some kind of puppet. Count me one liberal, who'd like as witty does to take an opportunity to criticize them, and I can't. If one wishes to tease them over this, fine, but I don't see any substantive basis for criticizing them.

In other words, this is worth approximately one eye-roll.
posted by dhartung at 4:39 PM on October 23, 2001

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