Oh, it’s good to be home.
The threat level has been raised (or was that lowered?) to orange. I wonder idly what this means — an image of medium-intensity jihadist chatter menacing Armonk, N.Y., comes to mind — but I have no time to get that vision in focus before another cheery message rolls out across the airport.
“Do not make jokes about security. You could be arrested.”
O.K., I won’t ask the Transport Security Administration guys with “TSA” on their shirts if the letters stand for “Team Standing Around,” and I won’t say, “Hey, remember how the U.S.A. used to be a land without fences and nobody ever called it a homeland,” and I won’t say, “Arrested? Ha! And then what?”
Nor will I mention the other America before “threat levels” and two wars and renditions and bumper stickers saying “Freedom is not free” — the land where jokes were not yet grounds for arrest and nobody got wrestled to the floor for “looking” suspicious and fear was not yet a coin of the realm.
Oh, but it’s good to be home, even if it’s a homeland now.
Just take a look at our home! A screeching belt in a bunker-like, airless hall (last painted in 1957) turns and turns without bags on it, watched by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ragged travelers straining to hear inaudible announcements, darting here and there like ants in a panic, blocking their ears against the screech, comforting babies, searching in vain for Delta baggage agents who’ve all gone home because there was a storm and it’s late and, hey, it’s summer!
Some of the marooned crowd are on cellphones screaming “Sorry, honey, you cut out, WHAT?” and the chorus rises, “Sorry, honey, you cut out, WHAT?” and I think that’s not a bad bumper sticker for this unraveled, disconnected homeland almost eight years into Bush.
Oh, yes, it’s good to be home.
Even if it’s a homeland, at least it’s not a fatherland. And how, I wonder, does our home look to others? As former President Bill Clinton noted at the Democratic national convention in Denver, the United States does better when it leads with “the power of our example” than with “the example of our power.”
To think this airport is named after J.F.K. — all that promise, and my Dad weeping at his loss in faraway London. Kennedy who asked us to ask ourselves what we could do for our country. Whatever happened to Lincoln’s “last, best hope?”
It got frayed. Let’s stop talking about an infrastructure bottleneck, sounds too like something in a Soviet 10-year Plan, and start talking about collapsing bridges, crawling trains, dilapidated airports, potholed roads, subway blues — the great national failure to build a network of public transport worthy of a modern state in the age of $110 oil.
We’ve been spending too much on fear while others spend on the future. And now J.F.K. looks like LOTH — Lagos-on-the-Hudson — while the Hong Kong airport shimmers the way American promise once did.
Yes, it’s good to be home. As Robert Frost noted, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”
Unless you make the wrong joke, or knock yourself out on the scaffolding, or have a weird beard.
Speaking of the Democratic National Convention, security there involved police in shades with sub-machine guns riding around on the backs of trucks and the image they summoned with their truculent menace was Pinochet’s Chile circa 1986, the main difference being the Colorado vehicles still had license plates.
Police dogs combed through the gym and pool area of the Denver Grand Hyatt sniffing goggles and towels as wide-eyed kids gaped.
And there, at the convention, was another Kennedy, Senator Edward Kennedy, rising from his hospital bed with a bull-like courage that nobody who witnessed it will forget, and saying, unbowed: “We are all called to a better country and a newer world.”
Yes, it can still be good to be home.
Barack Obama had this to say: “America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.”
I reckon John McCain can agree with that. Everyone — Democrat, Republican or independent — can. Certainly the rest of the world can. Its thirst to close the Bush chapter is near feverish.
Winston Churchill said of the United States that it can be counted on to do “the right thing,” but only after it has tried every alternative. As Roger Smith, an acute political observer and blogger, put it in an e-mail: “Well, George W. is every other alternative.”
Unless you count Sarah Palin, John McCain’s new sidekick, the Republican lady risen from the ice out near Russia. She’s certainly alternative.
It’s good to be home, but it sure could be better.
Link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/04/opinion/04Cohen.html