Columns » Outsider




We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Those words, memorized as a fifth-grader at Steele Elementary School so long ago, came forcefully to mind as I listened to the president's speech last Thursday night. As George W. Bush stood in the well of the House of Representatives and described our country's plight and the long struggle before us, he was a man utterly transformed.

The scared little rabbit who assumed the presidency without a majority of the popular vote, and with no clear idea of what he wanted to do other than make life a little easier for the wealthy, has disappeared. The annoying mannerisms, the flippant asides, the deer-in-the-headlights look -- all gone.

For all of us (and I was one of them) who thought of the president as a dull-witted incompetent, the new Bush is both astonishing and wonderful. By what magic, by what inspiration, by what grace did he suddenly metamorphose into the stern, forceful and unifying leader of our nation?

I don't know that there's any explanation other than the oft-repeated old saw that, in America, ordinary men are moved to do great deeds in times of great danger.

And now that the president has succeeded in creating a popular base to support the struggle against terrorism, let's think about what he'll actually have to do to win this war. The fundamental document of this country, quoted above, speaks of certain unalienable rights. Of those so cited, Life comes first, before Liberty, before the pursuit of Happiness.

To be safe from large-scale acts of terrorism, will we have to sacrifice some of our liberties, and some of our freedom to pursue Happiness? And if so, what will it mean to us, right here in Colorado Springs?

Most Americans are willing to undergo minor inconveniences for their own protection. My co-worker Kristen, who flew last Friday to Chicago on a 6 a.m. flight, was not happy about having to show up at the airport before 4 a.m., but was perfectly OK with the increased level of security.

But if we're going to protect ourselves from terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, we may need means that are a lot more sophisticated -- and a lot more intrusive -- than early check-ins at airports.

Suppose that the president proposed the following measures:

A national identification card that all citizens were required to carry, under penalty of law, at all times

Virtual closure of the Canadian and Mexican borders, and radically reduced immigration

A moratorium on any entrance visas to the United States for citizens of Middle Eastern countries

The removal of most restrictions on police surveillance of citizens

Ubiquitous monitoring of public places by cameras equipped with face-recognition software

Indefinite detention, without trial, of individuals arrested under vague "defense of the homeland" statutes

Many of these measures, some patently unconstitutional, are now the subject of serious discussion, under the theory that extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures.

Unfortunately, these are not extraordinary times; these are ordinary times. They may last for a generation. And here in Colorado Springs, we might see a lot of changes -- perhaps a permanent downsizing of the tourist industry, as travel is less convenient and more expensive (somebody has to pay for all those security measures).

More perilously, we could also see a wave of early retirements by baby boomers, many of whom will leave town for the Buena Vistas of the world. And, the end of the boom years: no more hypergrowth, no more rich developers, no more Intels bringing thousands of jobs to town.

And with the end of the boom, we may see a re-run of the late '80s: see-through buildings without tenants, ambitious developments (like the spectacular 1st & Main retail complex on Powers Boulevard) stopped dead in their tracks, and financial institutions in trouble, as borrowers begin to have cash flow problems.

War, so it's said, is good for the economy. Not this one; as the declining stock market tells us, this war will produce a new country, and a new Colorado Springs. We'll be less prosperous, less free, more constrained and more fearful.

As we, and the country, become more serious, we can forget about Gary Condit, Screwdriver Doug Dean, Charles Wingate's Internet surf habits and Governor Bill's marijuana patch.

Personally, I won't miss 'em ... but I do wonder what the Denver cops did with the Gov's reefer.


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