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Shine the "lamp of experience" on Sept. 11

As George W. Bush prepares his State of the Union address, in which he is certain to try to frighten us into capitulating to his grab for unchecked power by recalling September 11, Joseph Ellis is aking the right questions:

My first question: where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.

Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.

One of the most serious failures of our political leaders after 9-11 has been the failure to debate, honestly, the actual scope of the threat posed by terrorists. George W. Bush's apocalyptically insists that AlQaeda poses an existential threat. The Democrats either agree with him, or refuse to talk about terrorists at all.

The choice for most citizens becomes: vote for Bush and risk dictatorship, or vote for the Democrats and hope they remember that terrorists do exist. Someone in Washington should have been making Joseph Ellis' arguments a long time ago. Will Tim Kaine do it tomorrow in the Democratic response to the SOTU? Let's hope that he does.

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