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Homeland Security: Bush Should 'Trust the People'
Rick Fulton

PITTSBURG, KANSAS -- With 911 now 11 months past us, we have watched Dubya and company struggle to define and address what happened in 2001, and what is needed to prevent or at least address what may happen tomorrow.

The Republican answer has been two-fold: an initially well focused and thoughtful overseas strike that is now well on its way to a Vietnam comparison, and at home the creation of a Washington-based monster agency that wants to be all things to all people, of course in charge from Wall Street to Main Street, and at the same time far beyond laws and restrictions applied to all other Federal organizations.

We have heard all this before. Most of us don't remember the Great Depression, but we have heard the stories -- especially those which clearly depict the difference between Republican and Democratic approaches.

First the Republicans had their shot. The President back then was a good man, Herbert Hoover. He tried the big government approach, and when push came to shove, nothing worked.

Then along came the Governor of New York, a Democrat named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His answers were sweeping, too, but with a critical difference. FDR looked to the local community as the point of attack, and the New Deal programs that worked best were run by local people who knew the terrain and the needs of their home.

Today, as we look around, we still see a lot of the New Deal with us, especially in terms of public assets such as parks and schools but even more so in terms of public trust and confidence in handling major challenges.

That is something the Republicans just don't get. They don't understand that America works best at dealing with the big stuff on the home front, with only general guidance provided from up the chain, and with minimal restrictions imposed from above concerning how to take care of business down where the rubber meets the road.

So too should it be with the issue of Homeland Security. We don't need federal storm troops and we don't need far right ideas to replace center of the road common sense. What we do need is leadership that will give us a blueprint and then get out of our way, and we are definitely not getting such from Dubya, Ridge, Ashcroft and all their lowly and self-serving minions.

America isn't a bottomless pit of money. There is a bottom line to what resources there are, and thinking people look around at what is happening to the nation's economy, the nation's health, the nation's educational systems and they understand this. Aunt Sally sitting on the porch in Girard, Kansas gets it, even if little Timmy bureaucrat inside the beltway doesn't.

We have a multiplicity of ills to deal with, first at home, and then to extend what help we can overseas while at the same time not being too proud and too stubborn in the international arena to pull back from things that need change. We don't need to address Homeland Security by throwing money at it. That is not going to make the threat disappear, even if it does -- temporarily -- make certain corporate types even more wealthy than they have grown of late from "Enrongate."

Consider this. Soldiers don't fight wars. They fight battles. War, the bigger picture, belongs to soldiers, as citizens, but moreover belongs to everyone in the Nation. The same is true with Homeland Security.

We -- all of us -- have a problem. We -- all of us -- need to be engaged in finding the solution..... and with the current crowd in Washington (who are so self-centered they squeak, when it comes to anything), we get platitudes and grandiose ideas mixed with conservative philosophy (translating to give all the nation's wealth to the one half of one percent and screw the rest) but what we don't get is common sense.

Homeland Security is neither a new problem to be faced by Americans, nor in the great scheme of national defense is it really all that big a deal. Our whole History has been one of holding fast and holding on in the overcoming of adversity, and we have traditionally done that with magnificence, primarily because we didn't try to "manage" our problems to death. What we did in the past was to cling tenaciously to our ideals while having the courage to deal with what we faced down in the trenches from the bottom up.

Yes, there are bad people in the world, and yes, they want to hurt us in any way that they can. There is no argument any of us have with that. Our quarrel comes from the ways in which some believe we must act to win. The second thing they want to throw out (the first being common sense) are the mechanisms we have built and tinkered with and come to trust over the years. They want to replace them with some kind of out-of-control super agency run by the unelected for the benefit of the very few -- and that is unacceptable to most of us.

With regard to Homeland Security, we need first a framework, such as this:

Individuals Initiate -- meaning they observe and report, and also meaning they do their full share of volunteer service in organizations formed at the local level to address the "incoming fire."

Locals Lead -- meaning not the celebrities of state and national fame, seeking luster for their crowns, but instead local leaders such as the sheriff and such as the local commander of the veterans' post who know the ground, understand the wherewithal required, have an idea of resource availability, and know where to go to get things locally to deal with problems; leadership that has been selected and which is trusted by the people most effected; leadership of both the official and unofficial sort, that is trusted, known and which also has a personal stake so as to encourage competence. Locals apply, others supply -- the commonality being a cohesive national-state-local team desire to win.

State Supports -- meaning state leadership acts as a conduit of information and resources not locally available, handles jurisdictional disputes, protects state level resources, studies tactical strengths and weaknesses, relays and explains general guidance, provides a system of reinforcement, stands ready to step in to leadership roles as needed; yet which, for the most part, simply holds the locals' coats as they tap dance with the bad guys.

Federals Fund -- meaning the federal level provides wherewithal as it can, in terms of information and back up resources, provides general guidance, studies strategic strengths and weaknesses, protects federal level installations and interests, but does not interfere with local concepts of command and control in the handling of local community internal security affairs.

Every level in the framework has a job to do, and needs to do it without stepping on the toes of other levels involved. Winning against terrorism isn't a competition of people just on one side of the football field. Waterboys don't compete with coaches, but neither do the coaches carry the buckets, and neither gets in the way of the on-the-field quarterback. Each team member, top to bottom, has an important job to do, and each does it to the best of his or her ability. In a hard fought game against a team that has already scored points, we don't go time out to reinvent the wheel. Instead we use what we have and we go the extra mile to encourage all to give their all. The coach doesn't just talk to himself.

As a nation facing challenges we have vast and untouched, untapped personnel resources to deal with the world's Bin Ladins, beginning with military veterans who are already trained to handle sentry "observe and report" duties. First responders can't do it all. First responders can't police and fight fire and patch up the injured and still be able to guard the local water supply.

There needs to be a common understanding that the issues of Homeland Security are, at bedrock, most of all, a need of grassroots involvement, and not pie in the sky for those who believe they can be all things to all people while in truth only caring for the regards of the few. Propaganda and windiness only go so far. Like crime, homeland security needs are always with us, and for that matter always have been.

It is time for Americans to start applying common sense from the bottom up in dealing with 911, anthrax or whatever else may come our way, as we also deal ethically, constitutionally and legally with all the other challenges we face. We don't need overlords dictating rigid and single approaches. We don't need changes in our basic structure in order to do what is legal and right.

Partisanship in debates concerning Homeland Security?

I should hope so, for that is truly the American way, and Americans working together to find solutions will, in the long run, prove yet again our greatest strength lies in our ability to differ as we do our thinking, before coming together in common action. If we ever lose the ability to do that and then just blindly let the few dictate to the many the course of action to be followed, then the price we pay may very well be far steeper than it should be.