The other battle to defend America

While we're busy singing "America the Beautiful," the oil industry and other greedy pillagers are trying to pick our pockets and despoil our purple mountain majesties.

Published October 2, 2001 11:54PM (EDT)

The Gospel of Normalcy is being preached from the bully pulpit as our leaders try to convince patriotic Americans to return as quickly as possible to their normal lives. President Bush wants us to take our kids to Disney World. The secretary of transportation, the head of the FAA, and former presidents Clinton and Bush all took commercial flights last week in the hope of encouraging travel-leery Americans to return to the formerly friendly skies. And the president, who usually prefers a quick bite at home and an early bedtime, made it a point to have dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Virginia in order to set a good example of eating out.

But our pre-Sept. 11 lives weren't just about fun, flying, and fajitas. There were other things going on to which it's also important to return our attention. So, in the same patriotic spirit, I'd like to remind us of a few of them:

For starters, the so-called missile defense shield. We need to return to vigorously fighting the development of this pricey boondoggle. It was a lousy idea on Sept. 10, and it's a lousy idea now. It's a shame that, in the name of "unity," Democratic leaders are now rolling over on this issue. They've already backed away from a sensible provision requiring the White House to get congressional approval for any activities that would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and are ready to hand Bush nearly all of the $8.3 billion he requested to develop the shield. Times like these call for leadership. Unfortunately, it seems to be in short supply on Capitol Hill, and, unlike blood, it can't be donated by the public.

We should also waste no time reaffirming our loyal opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The horrors we saw in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania shouldn't serve as a convenient political excuse for giving away this pristine national treasure to the over-eager oil industry. Especially since the drilling will in no way lessen America's dependence on foreign oil: The refuge only contains enough oil to meet about six months of our nation's needs, and it won't even be available for use for another 10 years. A far more effective -- and immediate -- plan would be to raise the fuel efficiency standards of new cars and trucks. But given that the profit would be cleaner air rather than oil industry dollars, it's not going to happen unless we demand it.

Surely the many choruses of "America the Beautiful" we've heard in the last three weeks should reinforce in the national psyche how essential our wilderness is to the very notion of America. If "purple mountain majesties" are worth fighting for in Afghanistan, then they are worth fighting for at home.

Another battle we need to return to is the battle for gun control. The terrorist attacks have ignited a nationwide surge in gun sales, with firearms dealers reporting jumps in business of up to 70 percent. It in no way minimizes the horrific toll of Sept. 11 to point out that 33,000 Americans fall victim every year to gun violence. Just as we have declared war against international terror, we should also redouble our efforts to put an end to the homegrown bloodshed that continues to stain America's inner cities. If new Cabinet member Tom Ridge really wants to increase homeland security, he should add this threat to his portfolio.

And, as fast as we can, we should return to the battle to put an end to business-as-usual in Washington. We must in particular ensure that emergency measures are not merely the same old pork barrel decked out in newly fashionable red, white and blue. Because, emboldened by the $15 billion government bailout of the airline industry, everyone, from travel agents to cruise ship operators to the folks that make those yummy in-flight meals, is already trying to cash in. Their lobbyists are bellying up to the congressional bailout bar, hoping to be included in the current funding happy hour.

Even groups not directly affected by the attacks -- particularly the energy industry -- have tried to recast their plight in light of 9/11. Same with the congressional snake-oil salesmen pushing, once again, their capital gains tax cut and corporate income tax reduction panaceas. "The fun has just begun," says Sen. John McCain. "There's no train that leaves this station that they don't want to climb on."

If returning to the mall with a wad of cash is now considered an act of patriotism, isn't it even more patriotic to get back to the work of strengthening civil society and preventing critical domestic issues from being buried under the avalanche of bin Laden coverage?

Returning with renewed vigor to whatever causes we were working on before Sept. 11 is much more important to the vital interests and values of our country than going out to restaurants or taking our kids to visit Mickey Mouse. Yes, we should get back to our normal lives. But why stop there? Why not commit ourselves to larger goals and a greater purpose -- to living not merely normal lives, but better ones?

By Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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