With Election Day just three months away, some folks are campaigning for stiffer standards at the polls. I couldn't agree more. When my wife and I voted in the North Carolina primary a few days ago, no identification of any kind was asked for. We could have been Islamic terrorists appropriating the names Joel and Carol Belz. If it's OK in America to ask for a photo ID to drive a car, why not to vote?
But for Election Day 2004, I have a much better idea. Just this once, let's ask everyone to show up with his or her own copy of the paperback version of The 9/11 Commission Report. It should be slightly dog-eared to prove that it's actually been read. Maybe poll watchers should even ask each prospect to point to one underlined paragraph that the reader thinks is especially pertinent.
Just for 2004: No book, no vote.
Citizenship, after all, should be a little costly. If the right to cast a free ballot has cost some of our forerunners their very lives, is it so bad to put a couple of speed bumps in the road to the voting booth? Is it wrong to ask would-be voters to offer a little proof that they've thought things through?
Having read The 9/11 Commission Report myself, I have a mild confidence that requiring 100 million voters to sit down and read through it for themselves would produce an immediate and dramatic shift in the pre-election polls. George W. Bush would leap instantly to a 60-40 lead in the projections of how people will actually vote on Nov. 2.
But that is not the biggest reason for suggesting that Americans read The 9/11 Commission Report. Much more to the point is that such an exposure, by all voting Americans, would take their focus off the trivial and secondary issues that have been raised both by the mainstream media and the administration's Democratic adversaries, and put that focus instead where it desperately needs to be: on the continuing threat against our nation.
The implicit drumbeat from both the Kerry campaign and the mainstream media suggests that the Bush team overreacted after the events of 9/11. "We should have been more patient," suggest the critics. Or, instead of "patient," you can substitute "nuanced," "thoughtful," "constructive," or "cooperative." But The 9/11 Commission Report doesn't beat around the bush. Instead of pussyfooting on the edges of the discussion, the Commission dives right in and sounds sometimes very much as urgent as the president himself - and occasionally even more specific. It says, for example, on the second page of the chapter titled "What To Do? A Global Strategy": "But the enemy is not just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism - especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology."
Such pointedness fills the Commission's 428-page report (with another 140 pages of footnotes which, I'll admit, I didn't read). In doing so, the report eclipses much of the drivel that has passed for the last few months as a national debate. To continue the discussion about whether Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction in the fall of 2002, or to keep arguing over how closely linked Saddam and al-Qaeda may have been, is to squander precious time and costly resources. For the Commission makes it clear that the ultimate issue is neither as narrow as individuals like Saddam or bin Laden, nor as specific as nations like Iraq or Afghanistan. The main focus, says the Commission, involves "prevailing in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism." I
n other words, it's an altogether bigger deal than we've been debating. The life of our nation really is at stake. There really are people out there - and their numbers are growing - who want us to disappear from the face of the earth. And since these folks don't approach their goals just in military terms, this isn't ultimately a military struggle. The Commission seeks - believably, I think - to persuade us that this is no passing squabble, but a gigantic ideological battle of the kind that could easily go on for a generation.
I know Democrats don't want to be known for any illiberal ideas like book banning. But for their own protection this year, The 9/11 Commission Report is one book they should try hard to keep out of every voter's hands.