|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
American lawyer Kurt Haskell, who was standing in line with his wife Lori on Christmas morning at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, said Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was with a man aged about 50 of Indian appearance in an expensive suit talking with a ticket agent.
Mr Haskell claims that the second man told the ticket agent Abdulmutallab was from Sudan and did not have a passport. The ticket agent then referred the men to her manager down the hall, and Mr Haskell did not see the suspect against until after the failed bombing attempt.
Whether under Republicans or Democrats, whether the threat is Hurricane Katrina or Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, America seems to be facing a general crisis of state incapacity. Money can be found by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to bail out campaign contributors on Wall Street, but not to repair our crumbling infrastructure.
The U.S. fought and won World War II in less time than it took to adequately protect U.S. soldiers against primitive weapons in Iraq. We are told that we have to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely, because withdrawing would be admitting failure. Translation: We haven't won and are unlikely to win in the foreseeable future, if ever.
And now the narrowly averted Christmas massacre in the skies above Detroit. I don't think I'm overreacting when I say that if ever overreaction on the part of a citizenry has been justified, it is now. We the people deserve to be angry. It's not as though Abdulmutallab came up with a clever new tactic while our national security agencies were focused on the last tactic. He used more or less the same tactic as the "shoe bomber," Richard Reid, and nevertheless got through every layer of international and national security.
It's almost as though Osama bin Laden had been allowed through screening at Boston Logan, used a box cutter to hijack a jet, and would have crashed it but for the heroic intervention of other passengers defending themselves after their government failed to defend them.
Forget Democrats and Republicans for a minute. Every American should be asking the same questions: Why are we paying these people?
Our elected leaders and public servants can't do the hard stuff, and they can't do the easy stuff either. They can't provide universal, affordable healthcare, of the kind that all other advanced industrial societies have. They can't give us a system of banking that channels money from depositors to productive enterprises in our country, without being channeled into gambling with obscene profits skimmed off for the gambler-bankers. They can't win wars or avoid unwinnable ones. They can't even repair bridges and keep levees in operating condition, tasks mastered by the relatively primitive ancient Romans and ancient Chinese.
And now, after two invasions justified in the name of the "war on terror," the creation of a cumbersome Homeland Security bureaucracy and a Patriot Act, and countless studies, reports and hearings, it turns out that we Americans may have to defend ourselves against jihadists. First we were told ad nauseam that it was our job to identify possible terrorists in airports and bus terminals and train stations. What next? "Passengers are advised to be prepared to throw themselves if necessary on the flaming traveler next to them in the aircraft, in order to prevent a bomb from detonating. Please watch the demonstration by the flight attendants."
The reality as well as the perception of government incapacity threatens liberalism more than conservatism. After all, if public safety deteriorates, antisocial plutocrats can retreat into doormanned buildings and gated communities and hire their own private security forces, and rural conservatives can amass home arsenals. And if the costs of personal security reduce the room for taxes for public goods, well, then, so much the better, from the perspective of certain strains of anti-government conservatism.
In contrast, America's modest and inadequate system of social democracy rests on economic growth made possible by effective government provision of basic public goods. Economic growth in turn rests on physical security — the protection of citizens against criminals in their midst and hostile or law-breaking foreigners. Libertarians to the contrary, the indispensable preconditions for the free society are effective armed forces and police forces, be they citizen militias or professionals.