"Patriotism," Samuel Johnson wrote, "is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
Were he with us today, Dr. Johnson might amend that observation, making patriotism secondary to terrorism or the threat of it.
For several months after Sept. 11, 2001, patriotism worked. We festooned our cars and trucks with bumper stickers and flags. Our lapels sprouted little enamel flags and Sheriff Bush promised to make short work of the man who caused it all, Osama bin Laden, aka "The Evil One."
"Gonna track 'im down, smoke 'im out an' bring 'im back dead or alive," the sheriff vowed on television.
Well, bin Laden's still out there, untracked, unsmoked, undead and unbrung. But that doesn't matter. As the sheriff subsequently pointed out, he's just one man. Turns out the real Evil One was living in Baghdad all the while. And he has been caught, jailed and put on trial, at the cost of 2,500 and counting American lives, ten times that number wounded in body and mind, and billions of dollars that might have been better spent on this country. But the evil lives on, and not just in Iraq.
We are now at war against terrorism, an amorphous, stateless foe that is lurking wherever the sheriff and his deputies decide it is, and it isn't going to go away any time soon, and certainly not before the next couple of elections.
As such, terrorism has proved useful to scoundrels who have found that wrapping themselves in the flag is no longer sufficient to hide their ethical nudity.
So 9/11 becomes an all-purpose excuse for trashing the Constitution, warrantless wiretapping, torture, rendition, lying and declaring war on the news media in general and The New York Times in particular, for finally finding the courage to meet their obligation to the people.
And it has become especially useful to politicians desperate to hold onto their jobs in the face of a public awakening to the fact that they are embarrassing clowns. Case in point: Rick Santorum, R-Pa. Santorum is No. 3 in the U. S. Senate's Republican hierarchy, which tells you all you need to know about that crowd.
He is also fighting for his political life against the son of the man who was largely responsible for his election in 1994. When then-Democratic Gov. Robert Casey was denied a prime time speaking spot at that year's Democratic National Convention, he spent the rest of the campaign sulking in his tent and refused to help the incumbent senator, Harris Wofford, an intelligent and honorable man -- everything that Santorum wasn't and isn't.
Today, Santorum is being challenged by the junior Casey, who is leading him in the polls. In desperation Santorum has done what Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith failed to do: He has found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And he has been joined by fellow Keystone Kuckoo Curt Weldon in telling America of that discovery.
Well, they didn't actually find them. What they found was a report that real weapons inspectors several years ago had discovered some deactivated or dud chemical artillery rounds left over from the Iraq-Iran War and the first Gulf War, that were found to be harmless. Or so said the Pentagon in response to the dynamic duo's "discovery."
That should have been enough to silence your average officeholder, but Weldon and Santorum are not your normal officeholders.
They are scoundrels.
David Rossie is associate editor; his column is published on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
© 2006 Press & Sun-Bulletin