Save the Really Important People

Last weekend I was at a political event in Malibu where a woman named Paradise asked a member of Congress to do what he could to protect the dolphins and whales that are becoming casualties to U.S. Navy sonar radar tests. I have a strong feeling that Paradise is going to have to add "Save the Humans" to the list of grievances. Today we have learned what many expected for so long; there is a shadow government of really important people that the federal government has tapped to be the sole survivors in case something very bad (think nuclear) hits the U.S. capital.

Are you starting to get a very strong impression that we are living in a two-tiered society, one for the executive level that knows when to cash in its shares of Enron stock or enter the Cheney bunkers and the other for us poor souls holding useless stock and standing outside the bunkers? The insiders, those high-ranking officials who are part of the underground government "would try to contain disruptions of the nation's food and water supplies, transportation links, energy and telecommunications networks, public health and civil order. Later it would begin to reconstitute the government" (Washington Post, 3/1). In case there is a run on survivor space, the Post "agreed to a White House request not to name any of those deployed or identify the two principal locations of the shadow government." This is definitely not another Blue Light special. How many people are we talking about with all that responsibility to run the country the day after disaster? Roughly the size of our U.S. Senate, although in this case the representation for the shadow government is from the executive branch only, not the Congress or the judiciary. (Sorry, Rep. Barbara Lee.)

The shadow government activation, a classified "Continuity of Operations Plan" going back to the "nuclear is fun" days of I Love Lucy and I Like Ike, came within hours of the September 11th attacks. Originally executed "on the fly" and envisioned to be a temporary response to terrorist risks, it was then made a permanent feature of the "new reality" as some call the post 9-11 era. By the time Bush created the Office of Homeland Security (Executive Order 13228) one day after beginning to bomb Afghanistan, the new Director Tom Ridge was asked to "review plans and preparations for ensuring the continuity of the Federal Government in the event of a terrorist attack that threatens the safety and security of the United States Government or its leadership." Leadership seems to have a decided advantage.

Those called up for bunker service must not tell their families what they are doing or where they are going other than to say they are going on a "business trip." We've all heard that one before. In this case, rotation begins at 90-day intervals, so one would be hard pressed to envision a weekend fling in Palm Springs.

Feeling left out of the contingency plan? Seek solace in Walter Lippmann's The Phantom Public: "The actual governing is made up of a multitude of arrangements on specific questions by particular individuals. These rarely become visible to the private citizen. Government, in the long intervals between elections, is carried on by politicians, officeholders, and influential men who make settlements with other politicians, officeholders, and influential men. The mass of people see these settlements, judge them, and affect them only now and then... Nor in any exact and literal sense are those who conduct the daily business of government accountable after the fact to the great mass of voters. They are accountable only, except in spectacular cases, to the other politicians, officeholders and influential men directly interested in the particular act. Modern society is not visible to anybody, nor intelligible continuously and as a whole."

So there you have it. We finally have come to understand the need for this shadow government. It is the insiders who make decisions and gain entry into the bunker because they know better than the rest of us the true gravity of the situation and can act responsibly to rebuild after a crisis. The outsider, according to Lippmann, "is necessarily ignorant, usually irrelevant and often meddlesome, because he is trying to navigate the ship from dry land." Or in this case, with covered face under the desk.

There is a silver lining in the mushroom cloud. For us Baby Boomer outsiders, we can take some comfort in the great equalizer that only superpowers exhibit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "virtually every person in the United States since 1951 has been exposed to radioactive fallout" (New York Times, 3/1). That means insiders and outsiders, unless there is some top-secret nuclear sunscreen we don't know about.

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