Sunday, October 21, 2001

Anthrax scare

The House: profiles in timidity

        I hope TV reception was nice and clear Friday in the corporate rat hole of terrorist CEO Osama bin Laden.

        That's the day Lisa Beamer flew from Newark to San Francisco. Mother of two, pregnant with a third child, she's the widow of Todd Beamer, who died Sept. 11 with 44 others aboard United Flight 93. Mr. Beamer, 32, was one of several passengers who decided to “do something” about the hijackers.

        “What they did was to foil, I think, the attack on Washington,” Vice President Dick Cheney said.

        Todd Beamer's father said, “Obviously there was a struggle, but I can tell you who lost. That plane was headed for a target, and it wasn't a field with nobody there in Pennsylvania.”

First American victory

        It was the first victorious battle, one we badly needed.

        “I know we're not going to make it out of here,” Mr. Beamer told a GTE operator during a 13-minute conversation. Before he put down the phone to join the passenger revolt, he recited the Lord's Prayer, then asked the operator to tell his wife he loved her. Before the connection was broken, the operator says she heard the words, “Are you guys ready? Let's roll.”

        Brave. Tough. Inspiring.

        Just before Lisa Beamer climbed aboard the airplane, she stood before the cameras of several early-morning television news shows. “I want to show people it's safe to get back on an airplane. President Bush has made it clear that as citizens we can't let terrorists take away our normal lives and give them more victories than they already have.”

        Dan Rather's secretary, diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax, “has not missed a single day of work,” according to her boss. The evening news went on as scheduled with Tom Brokaw after someone on his staff tested positive for the bacterium. God knows, New York firefighters show up for work, crawling through still-burning rubble.

Sucking on Cipro

        The president addressed the nation on Sept. 20, saying, “The entire world has seen for itself the state of the Union, and it is strong.”

        Then, anthrax came to Washington, and the world was allowed to see members of the United States House of Representatives run for cover. Embarrassing. Wussy. A mental image of legislators hiding under their desks sucking on Cipro. That should make a nice recruiting film for the enemy.

        House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave the order for 435 elected officials to desert their posts. If House leaders thought their building wasn't safe, why didn't they rent a hall? When the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, Congress met in a local hotel.

        “Terrorists have succeeded in doing what invading forces, major international powers and even a bloody and protracted civil war all have failed to do,” said Ronald Sarasin, president of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.

        After anthrax “hot spots” were found in the Capitol building, the Senate reported for duty, Maryland's Sen. Barbara Mikulski vowing indignantly to “keep working, even if it means carrying a briefcase and sitting under a tree.” Meanwhile, Mr. Hastert sent his colleagues home, saying, “We have to do what we think is prudent and right.”

        What the country needed to hear was the smack of a gavel and the leader of the House summoning lawmakers to work. He might have said something like: “Are you guys ready? Let's roll.”

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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