EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/A cautionary tale
It’s not President George Bush or Mayor Ray Nagin that people don’t trust. It’s not even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or U.S. Rep. Randy “Top Gun” Cunningham that causes Americans to wince. It’s their governments they don’t trust anymore — all of them. The national government that did not have a plan to get us both into and out of a war, a government that should have known that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Or the local government that had no apparent plan to rescue its residents from a natural disaster, even though it knew that the levees were only pretending to protect New Orleans.
Or, maybe, Americans now realize that the action figure movie star Californians elected governor isn’t the hero he plays, and that the crisis he auditioned for is real and isn’t going to be solved in the two hours and fifteen minutes it took the Terminator to save the planet. And then there’s Cunningham, whose military career inspired the Top Gun character. This time the real life action hero made a humiliating transformation into a bald faced liar who accepted millions of dollars in bribes to secure billions of dollars for government contractors and, in so doing, stole something else more valuable — the public trust, Billy the Kid style, in broad daylight.
And, I’m sure Americans recall the rave reviews of the much anticipated opening act of the country’s new mega bureaucracy created to “lead America to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters.” Certainly they remember the part about bringing homeland security under one roof to streamline the information channels so that their government could act quickly and effectively when a disaster struck. Forget Brownie. You’ve done a heck of a job, Department of Homeland Security. Sorry, no bravos. And by the way, Americans don’t want an encore.
They also don’t want to see more dead Americans, tragically trapped in the backwash from the waves created by governments flailing from crisis to crisis. Unfortunately, they’ve grown to expect the occasional crooked politician stuffing money into his pockets, but there’s something about dead Americans floating across a television screen that leaves scars.
After slowly and painfully uncovering a host of governmental misadventures and watching as high-level public servants bent over backwards to blame each other while lives hung in the balance, Americans, to no one’s surprise, have finally had enough. Current public opinion polls tell the story of their disgust, if not outright contempt, for the people they trusted to deal with the problems beyond any individual’s control. What they’ve seen, however, are failed or non-existent plans from feckless government leaders.
Americans can expect no immediate relief as we continue our cultural war and, of course, the war on terrorism. But as the evidence of a crisis of confidence mounts, possibly the leaders in government will recognize it. Maybe then, they will turn to winning the most important battle of all — the one for public trust.