--> Gill Blog: Balancing Politics with Our Need to Remain Informed

Gill Blog

Monday, August 02, 2004

Balancing Politics with Our Need to Remain Informed

Shortly after DHS Chief Tom Ridge left the podium after announcing the threat level in the U.S. was being elevated to orange, I received a call from a friend in Ohio who thought the press conference was just about politics. Democratic numbers were up, DHS was created under President Bush's watch, and Ridge (a buddy of the President's) used the opportunity to prick a pin in the Democratic Party's bubble of euphoria from last week.

Sure, in the fuzzy afterglow of last week's Democratic National Convention where polls showed a marginal increase in John Kerry's approval ratings - par for the course after any convention - having Ridge remind Americans of the uncertain times we live in might remind some that security and strength trumps everything, and thus take a little shine off of those numbers (A Gallup/CNN poll from yesterday actually shows Kerry's numbers have indeed dropped - but that's a discussion for another forum). Turned out it wasn't too long before Howard Dean began echoing the same sentiments as my buddy, when he appeared on CNN:
Security policy has been a major issue in the campaign and some Democrats were quick to wonder if politics was purposefully getting mixed up with national security. "I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush he plays his trump card which is terrorism," said Howard Dean, a former Democratic contender for the White House. "It is just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics," the former governor of Vermont told CNN on Sunday.
The larger point however, is that we are living in a time when not only security threats are at an all-time high, but so too are political divisions. When these two factors are at play (especially during an election year) such news events are bound to be labelled by some as political. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves fundamental questions about how much information we require in order to be prepared go about our daily routines. It would seem to me that if a department has been established to maintain national security and it becomes aware of a potential threat, wouldn't it be in the national interest to inform?

Ridge has previously been criticized for being vague about events and locations of potential attacks. On July 8, for instance, he spoke about looming threats that might postpone the election but was unable to offer any specifics
"We lack precise knowledge about time, place and method of attack, but along with the C.I.A., F.B.I. and other agencies, we are actively working to gain that knowledge"
The vagueness of the message combined with it's timing - two days after John Kerry tapped John Edwards as his running mate in the upcoming election - have led many anti-Bush factions to dismiss such announcements as pure political maneuvering.

Unlike the previous warning, this one was very targeted as it pinpointed five seperate locations in New York, New Jersey and D.C.: The IMF, The World Bank, Prudential Financial, Citigroup, and the New York Stock Exchange. In this situation Ridge and those who will follow in future administrations will perpetually be walking the tightrope between vagueness (too little info for a cynical public to take seriously), and detail (too much info to reveal to the bad guys).

Political or non-political, I put a higher premium on being informed than being in the dark. We'll have more to discuss on the location/facility aspect of these warnings on the blog this week. Stay tuned.


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