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|Dissecting Jim Breslin
by Brian S. Wise
25 October 2002
A response to columnist Jim Breslin's emotional meltdown concerning the Beltway shootings.
New York Newsday manages, despite itself, to publish a daily newspaper, one of its regular columnists being Jim Breslin, who possess at his fingertips the sort of noodle-brained intellectual rationale normally reserved for senior Democratic Senators from South Dakota, or Maureen Dowd. Fortunately, I suppose in no small part thanks to papers like Newsday, Breslin is allowed to keep his thoughts (although one struggles against logic to call them thoughts) out in the open for all interested parties to see – and, as is the case here, dissect.
No sooner had some of the bodies laid to rest by the Beltway shooter cooled, columnists and other pundits were exorcising themselves of the anti-gun outrage that always builds to impressive levels between notable shootings. Some expressed their outrage by questioning the tactics employed by Chief Moose, some wondered out loud why the feds didn’t become involved sooner, some decried the reluctance of Evil Republican Politicians to support the so-called fingerprinting of bullets as they leave the chamber; everyone had their way of venting. Jim Breslin expressed his outrage by wondering exactly what the President of the United States was doing out at campaign events when he should have been walking the streets infected by the fear hatched by the shooter, displaying by his presence the safety in the streets. I’m not kidding, and neither was Breslin. A right-minded conservative could end up making quite the living if he simply spoke to the better side of the Left’s most ignorant regular columnists; my quest to make such a living begins here.
Breslin begins by asking, “What … was George Bush doing in Atlanta, Dayton Beach, Fla., Rochester, Minn., Downingtown, Pa., Bangor, Maine, and other such places where he makes these cheap campaign tours?” The thing you should find most uncanny about the zealot (those belonging to either political extreme) is their uncanny ability to blame the opposing side’s most notable figurehead for whatever tragedy may befall even one common man, no matter how disconnected the figurehead may be from the happenings. To underscore the point, we have a brief telling of the common man President Bush is said to be ignoring (“a 35-year-old father of two, a classic American working man, was killed committing the sin of going to work early” et cetera), and a solution to the problem as Breslin sees it: “Bush should have been taking a walk through Silver Spring or Rockville. That was his job. He pledged to defend the nation. He could have started by helping to repel the attack on Washington.”
Really?! But look here, blame cannot only be laid on the feet of the president; you should also consider John “Prayer Book” Ashcroft (Breslin’s terminology, not mine). “Ashcroft could have had National Guard troops from two states, Maryland and Virginia, around schools. In New York, we had National Guard troopers on the streets at both the Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges. Putting them at schools is more like it.” But, alas, “Ashcroft was nowhere because the president was nowhere.”
All right Jimmy, dammit, what’s your point? “When John Kennedy was shot in 1963, Lyndon Johnson, succeeding him, was in the driveway outside the White House, falling in behind the hearse for the march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the requiem Mass. The Secret Service and people on his staff were against this. Too dangerous, they kept telling him. ‘I'd rather be shot than let anybody think I'm afraid to go out on that street,’ Johnson said.” (The numb sensation you have in your head right now is often the same reaction otherwise normal people experience right before they give in to demands from extremists; University presidents with students during the 60s, et cetera.)
Lyndon Johnson did indeed walk to the requiem Mass, as he should have, an ad hoc protocol suggested by nothing more than the seriousness with which one should take the assassinations of American presidents. But by the time Johnson took to Pennsylvania Avenue, no matter the Secret Service objections, it was a contained scene, in that the singular effort undertaken against Kennedy had been completed, its alleged suspect arrested, and all necessary security steps implemented. In the Beltway shootings, the threat was, at the time, imminent; only a stone cold intellectual jackass logically suggests the leader of the free world steps onto such a stage, no matter the remoteness of the threat to him individually. (Not coincidentally, Lyndon Johnson did not, after Kennedy’s assassination, try navigating that left turn from Main onto Elm in an open top convertible to see what would happen; being where he was, and doing what he did, was safer. As it was with Johnson then, so it is with Bush now.)
As to National Guard question, well, they weren’t asked for, by either Maryland or Virginia, and weren’t needed besides. As much as the federal government enjoys unilaterally stepping on smaller hands, Ashcroft’s sending troops to effected schools (a disproportionately small number) would have represented a profound overkill, most especially when local police forces could have been called in to do the job. Those schools that were going to be closed were simply going to be closed regardless of the protection afforded them; John Ashcroft couldn’t have sensibly forced them to open, or else be seen as heavy handed and overstepping his boundaries.
One expects the ruling political party to force pressures like these; the administration was going to be damned by someone no matter how they handled the shootings. It just so happened that Jim Breslin’s reaction was so emotional, and so lacking of common sense, it deserved a reaction, this rhetorical bitch slapping. This column will be forwarded to Breslin in hopes he sobers up and, I’ll admit it, respond, so we can lend ourselves to the demonstrative breakdown he will extend as a response.