Outside editorial: Americans can handle the truth

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's San Jose Mercury News:

The president travels to Atlanta on Thursday to deliver an address about homeland defenses. It will be a critical moment for Bush and his presidency.

While Americans give the president high marks for his handling of recent events, polls show increasing concerns about the direction of the war in Afghanistan and about safety at home.

With the memories of Sept. 11 and the deaths of 4,600 people still firmly in mind, the vast majority of Americans appear solidly behind their government.

Americans are going about their lives despite the heightened security concerns. They've been patient even though the news from the bombing and ground actions in Afghanistan have been anything but conclusive. They've avoided panic even though the full dimension of the anthrax scare remains unknown.

The continued strength of that American resolve depends in large part on the tone and direction from the top, which is why the president's address Thursday is so critical.

The administration has delivered mixed messages regarding the anthrax scare. Thursday, the president has an opportunity to tell us what's known and what's not known, and what specific steps are being taken to contain the threat.

The administration also has not matched its tough talk with actions regarding Osama bin Laden. Tuesday, the president told European leaders that the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks posed a threat "to civilization itself."

Were that truly the case, you'd think the response would be much, much stronger than bombing attacks, some special forces ground units, and support of a ragtag coalition opposed to the Taliban.

Small wonder growing numbers of Americans are concerned and confused. Reckless hyperbole serves only to undercut the credibility of the president's message.

Our lives have been forever changed since the events of Sept. 11. Everything from getting on an airplane to opening the mail is different. Most Americans are resilient enough to accept all of that.

Our military personnel are engaged in a difficult battle abroad. More American casualties will be suffered. Most Americans also are realistic enough to accept that, for those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks must be called to account. The terrorists' ability to wage future such attacks must be contained.

Americans may well need a continuing rallying cry, a reminder of the threats we face and an appeal to sacrifice. They also need a sober, clear and realistic assessment of the goals and the risks. The president's challenge Thursday is to deliver both.

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