Quiz time. Who is the luckiest man in the world?
No, not the guy who won the Power Ball drawing, and certainly not Ben Affleck (unless the postponement becomes a cancellation). But the answer is easy. The luckiest man in the world is Osama bin Laden.
Like our very own George W. Bush, Osama was born into wealth and never had to support himself. But even without that good luck, the man could have made an easy living for himself by working as a Jesus model. With his handsome Semitic good looks and his dreamy, faraway smile, he was a natural for the job. The Old Masters would have drooled.
But what really makes bin Laden the luckiest man in the world is his surprise ally. When bin Laden ordered the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (assuming he did), he wanted to do more than kill thousands of infidels. He wanted to change the world, disrupt American society, and destroy an American culture that was slowly overtaking the entire planet.
When bin Laden made his move, there was no way he could have predicted that his greatest ally would be the current American president, the Honorable George W. Bush.
Now, that's luck!
America, whatever its faults, has always been a beacon of hope for people around the world. Although many nations have surpassed our standard of living, we are still the land of economic opportunity, virtually unfettered free speech, religious freedom and, to a large extent, tolerance of nonconformity.
People elsewhere looked to us with hope, even after the events of the year 2000, when the presidential candidate who was clearly the people's choice and the most competent for the job lost to a previously ne'er-do-well whose main qualification was that he was the scion of a rich and politically prominent family.
So when the Saudi hijackers and their helpers committed their terrible crimes on Sept. 11, 2001, the world wept for America. Never, never before in our history, not even on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, did the rest of the world bleed for America the way it did on that Sept. 11 and the days following.
So the combined tragedies of Sept. 11 became a kind of opportunity for America. We could have turned the tables on our tormentors by proving that we were what most people of the world believed we were, a good and kind and generous nation, truly the land of the free and the home of the brave.
But we didn't do that. We did just the opposite. Under the leadership of the Honorable George W. Bush, we showed how petty we could be, how mean-spirited, and even how cowardly. We truly disgraced ourselves in the eyes of the world as, under Bush, we started the methodical destruction of our wonderful freedoms in the name of self-protection.
We cringed, we cowered and, when the opportunity to do so arose, we bullied. And, when the chance came for George W. Bush to settle an old personal score with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, we thumbed our nose at the rest of the world and insulted it. "Old Europe," our leaders said, disdainfully.
We invented "freedom fries" to show our contempt for the nation that made America possible in the 18th century.
We took a page from the despots of the world and started making people disappear. We rediscovered torture of prisoners to make them talk, either through surrogates ("The Saudis know how to deal with these kinds of problems") or using modern, scientific, non-touching methods.
We pushed through the USA Patriot Act, an unreadable mess of legalistic mumbo jumbo, without a single senator or representative knowing exactly what was in it. It turned out to be such a bad piece of legislation that communities around the nation passed resolutions vowing to not cooperate with it. Even librarians united to defy its unwarranted snooping terms.
The Honorable Mr. Bush and his trusty cohorts created the mammoth Department of Homeland Security, a mishmash of departments that were already so big as to become dysfunctional. "Big government is never so big that it can't become bigger and more impersonal" -- that seemed to be the logic behind "homeland" security.
("Homeland," incidentally, has never been defined. Is it everything American? Just the North American part? Just the Lower 48? Does it include Hawaii, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa? How about Puerto Rico? Kingman Reef? Does anybody know?)
In short, Mr. Bush has set about finishing the job that Osama bin Laden started. Even his economic policy -- take from the poor, give to the rich -- is designed to increase monetary discrepancies between Americans, just like in bin Laden's native land.
Nor is Mr. Bush above religious fundamentalist superstition. In what might have been a signal to bin Laden as to what kind of leadership America now has, Mr. Bush in 2001 put the clamps on stem cell research (while pretending to maintain it at low levels). His murky "logic" cramping scientific study defies rational explanation. It is Middle Ages stuff, right out of the Osama bin Laden playbook. Osama had to be pleased.
It seems quite possible that the absence of follow-up attacks on America can be explained by a lack of necessity for them. From bin Laden's point of view, everything in America is happening just the way he likes it. We are becoming more and more like a Middle Eastern emirate and less and less like the world's foremost democracy.
Why should bin Laden attack us again and rock the boat? Mr. Bush is doing his work for him.
Will there ever be another terrorist attack here? The experts say yes, and they're most likely right. When will it be? My guess: sometime next year, timed to draw the fearful closer to Mr. Bush and assure his re-election.
The best the lucky bin Laden could possibly hope for is four more years of George W. Bush.
Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist. His column appears Mondays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2003 SF Gate