Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Here we go again. Politics on the highest level ” national, international ” all boils down to lessons we learned in high school.
Make that elementary school.
It’s a tale of bullies and cowards and how, in the end, they seem to be the same.
I think immediately of a young bruiser to whom I lost a playground fist-fight in the fifth grade.
He pushed me; I pushed back. He punched me; I punched back. We scuffled and eventually I walked away, not really injured, but crying nonetheless.
I was the loser and he was still the toughest kid on the playground.
But stored right alongside that memory of my fifth-grade humiliation is an earlier memory of that same young bully on our first day together in first grade, when he sobbed uncontrollably all morning because he missed his mommy.
The transformation from crybaby to bully is a classic one. The theory goes that some crybabies compensate for their inner terror by thrashing out against everyone around them. Their brutality and dominance help convince them that they are in control, that they are, despite the raging fear within, safe.
Which brings us, of course, to Guantanamo Bay.
A moment, please, for a quick review:
During last year’s presidential election campaign, the need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay was one of the few points on which both the Democratic and Republican nominees agreed whole-heartedly.
Also, there seems to be very little disagreement that the prison at Guantanamo is terrible for America’s image in the world. It is inarguable evidence of our failure to live up to our high ideals and our frequent unabashed rhetoric about our deep respect for human dignity and the rule of law.
Some people have made it clear that they think that global black eye is insignificant in comparison with our need to keep those bad boys locked up ” but no one seems to deny that the continued existence of Gitmo is bad for our image.
Both General David Petraeus (you remember him) and Admiral Mike Mullen (chairman of the joint chiefs of staff) agree that Guantanamo should be closed. Mullen said it is “a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us.”
And yet, as soon as President Obama took the first steps toward actually closing that prison, the Republican Party had a collective hissy-fit fainting-spell at the thought of those evil-doers ” “the worst of the worst,” as the Bush crew like to label them ” locked up on American soil.
(Remember, by the way, that those men weren’t originally locked up in Cuba because they were too dangerous to come here. They were sent to Guantanamo because the Bush administration figured our outpost on Cuban soil was exempt from U.S. law regarding the rights of prisoners.)
Lordy, Lordy! The wild wailing of the assorted Henny-Pennies of the Grand Old Party has been painful to hear, a deafening cacophony of clucking. A true cluster cluck.
Like stereotypical old ladies jumping on their chairs and clutching their skirts at the sight of a mouse, the Republicans shrieked with terror.
But wait. I thought these were the tough ones. I thought Republicans were hard-eyed, realistic, blood-n-guts. They walk with a swagger, their brass balls clanging.
Republicans are the ones who are eager to teach the world a lesson, eager to “project American strength” around the globe.
Remember “Bring ’em on!” Remember “shock and awe”?
Now it’s just “Cluck, cluck, cluck!”
“Not in my state!” they screech. “No terrorists here! No! Help!”
When did those tough guys suddenly turn into scaredy-cats?
Sure, I know, the typically terrified Democrats have joined the rush, screeching just as loudly as the Republicans. But that’s to be expected. The Democrats aren’t running in terror from the terrorists ” they’re running from the Republicans.
It’s all politics. And it’s all nonsense.
Our prisons already hold many, many hundreds ” make that thousands ” of genuine bad guys. We have prisoners who have murdered people and then eaten their corpses. We have prisoners who set off bombs in crowded places. We have prisoners who tried to blow up the World Trade Center. We have prisoners who tried to blow up airplanes. We have cold-blooded murderers of every sort.
We here in the United States happen to be very, very good at locking people up. It’s one of our specialties. Prisoners do not escape from federal maximum security prisons.
And prisoners in maximum security prisons do not get to conspire, corrupt other prisoners, riot and take over the joint.
Prisoners at the federal supermax penitentiary in Florence, Colo., spend 22 1/2 hours a day in solitary confinement. The other hour and a half they get to exercise, by themselves, in the maximum security equivalent of a dog run.
They’re not going anywhere ” except crazy.
And the people who live in Florence, people who might have those terrorists locked up next door to them, don’t seem to be bothered by the prospect.
The mayor made it clear he’s not worried. “Florence is used to having very bad boys at the supermax” he said. “We weren’t expecting it to house a bunch of kindergartners.”
And the local newspaper publisher put it even more simply. “Bring ’em on,” he declared. (Imagine that. A newspaper publisher echoing George W. Bush.)
But no one cares what the local people think. This has nothing to do with prisoners or dangers or local communities.
What does it really mean? Two choices:
1. Those tough-talking, force-projecting, gung-ho Republican bullies really are little cry-baby cowards at heart. And they really are scared.
2. This is all shameless Washington, D.C., political drama. Those Republicans aren’t the least bit concerned about terrorists ” or about the welfare of this nation. They are exclusively concerned about the next election and about doing everything possible to undermine the current president. If it hurts the country but helps their party ” that’s OK with them.
Take your pick.