Brand New Bag

Lott's sin: He was sooo old-school

If you doubt that this is so, consider what happened to Patty Murray recently. A couple of weeks ago, the Washington senator had the poor judgment to tell a high school honors class that Americans would do well to ask why Osama bin Laden enjoyed such popularity among Muslims the world round. She pointed out his public works, the roads and schools and hospitals. The real issue was not the purported merits of Osama but the sentiments of Muslims who admire him; Murray was only making the innocuous and essentially conservative observation that it is in our long-range interest to understand why the land of the free is so roundly despised by so many. For her trouble she was energetically bitch-slapped by Republicans from Seattle to Washington and back, and to my knowledge no Democratic colleague rose to defend her. She then ran up the white flag with a press release that began, "Osama bin Laden is an evil terrorist who..." Better. Where the perfidy of Arabs is at issue, no explanation but evil will be tolerated. And that's the end of the discussion, since we all know why evil people do evil things: because they're evil, stupid.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the lull in homegrown white-on-black racism at the top levels of government is likely to end sometime this year. Already you can see the stage being set in the odd wire story. Around a month ago there appeared an AP story with the salacious headline "Gang Bloodshed Surging in Some Cities." The numbers really do not bear out the implication; besides Los Angeles, where a long-standing gang truce has fallen apart over the past few years, the murder rate in most major cities is flat. But the story is larded with grave pronouncements from cops and think-tankers about a rising national tide. "We had a stranglehold on it and we allowed them to breathe," in the words of Wes McBride, president of the California Gang Investigators Association. "We relaxed our grip and now they're back." Somewhere Jack Webb nods grimly. What is to be done?

Pronounce them terrorists, that's what. The details of the backstory are yet to be determined, but they hardly matter. Right-thinking Americans are conditioned to believe practically anything they're told about the world's dusky hordes, including the ones who walk among them. So perhaps another Jose Padilla will drop into Ashcroft's lap, some putative gangster who says or does something that smacks of treason. (Padilla was the Latino Muslim nabbed for attempting to download bomb plans from the Internet. He is being held indefinitely without charges, largely because the government cannot make a case that he posed a serious threat and it does not want to be embarrassed.) More likely the Bush administration will play its ace in the hole and announce that the drug traffickers who supply the gangster distribution networks in the U.S. have ties to terrorist groups, and therefore so do all American gangbangers. Presto: enemy combatants among us, and a warrant for subjecting more American citizens to the kinds of unconstitutional scrutiny and detention the government so prizes.

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