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An Open Letter to My Old Harvard Classmate, Tom Ridge

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Although our casual contacts as students at Harvard in the 1960s never amounted to a friendship, Tom, they did give me a sense of your character.

We came to Harvard when JFK was still president, the torch liberty had been passed ("the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God"), and the idealism of our generation was being expressed in the Peace Corps, in the civil rights movement, and at times at our dining room tables.

It was over dinner conversation ┬ľ since you and I, being not only members of the same class but also residents of Quincy House, ate our meals in the same dining rooms for four years-that I got my sense of you as an earnest young man, not posing a sophisticated cynic like some of our classmates, who took seriously the ideals of America.

Did I see you correctly then, Tom?

It is, in any event, with that image of you in mind that I write to you now. For I believe that you are in a unique position at this historical moment to help America come into better alignment with the ideals you and I both cherished back then.

There's an issue on which I wish to ask you to speak out. It's the Bush administration's use of "the war on terror" for its own political advantage.

As you doubtless know, suspicions about this "fear-mongering" have been around for some time, but they have lately been increasing in intensity.

Just weeks ago, on his MSNBC program, Countdown, Keith Olbermann laid out a timeline that painted a suggestive and disturbing picture. Olbermann delineated a highly suspicious correlation between those times that the Bush administration faced political difficulties (and thus would have wanted to change the public's focus) and those times when a terror-related announcement was made that changed the headlines and usually lifted the administration's poll numbers.

And then there was the recent, much-publicized bust of an alleged terrorist plot in Great Britain. Even as the American people were being re-awakened to fears of terrorists attacking our air travel, reports were widespread that the Bush administration had pressured the British to make the arrests precipitously, well before the British investigators themselves felt that the time was right.

No plausible explanation has been offered as to why the Bush administration was so eager for the arrests to be made immediately despite the now-evident fact that there was no immediate threat of an attack and despite the danger that premature arrests might jeopardize a successful prosecution. This failure to offer some legitimate reason clearly suggests the possibility of an illegitimate reason, such as how the "terrorist plot" story could serve to overshadow the extraordinary defeat of Joe Lieberman by his own party of for being too supportive of the Bush administration and of its war in Iraq.

Surely you'll agree, or at least the young Tom Ridge I thought I knew would have agreed: it would be hard to find words too harsh to describe the perfidy of leadership that deliberately played politics with such vital matters of national security. How terrible it would be for a president of the United States to evoke and cultivate fear in the American people-not to serve the people's needs but to serve his own at their expense.

But while many Americans harbor such suspicions of this president and his administration fear-mongering about the "war on terror" to increase their own power, almost half of the country continues to be swayed whenever the Bush administration plays the terror card, hypnotized by the fear intentionally evoked by those declaring themselves to be the people's only possible protectors.

If the trust of Bush supporters is being betrayed, their knowing of this betrayal would be a matter of urgent national importance. But people who still turn to the Bush administration for protection are not going to listen to Bush's critics. In this deeply polarized society, such critics have long since been dismissed by the president's supporters as "Bush-bashers."

But they would listen to you.

So I call upon you to come forward and tell the country what you witnessed during your tenure as this president's head of Homeland Security.

Were the movements to higher states of alert announced by your Department ever politically motivated?

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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