Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Mon, Apr 18 2005

Is The President Soft On Caffeine?

One writer of one article on The Minuteman Project web site describes people close to the Mexican border as believing that President Bush has betrayed them. I doubt that's exactly what people meant in practical terms. Politicians, and particularly presidents, are extremely insulated now from what goes on in everyday life in any given sector of the country. Most of them have come up through the ranks of other political positions, so they've spent years surrounded by advisors, security personnel and aides. Even the actors who have gone into politics are usually of enough celebrity status that they have ceased to rub elbows with the general public because of safety or for other practical reasons. When someone from the White House does get out and talk to a private citizen in some small town it's usually only after careful screening and scrutiny of that person's lifestyle and background by a whole team of experts. It's almost impossible for someone in a high office to have open, spontaneous access to most of us. When a president, governor or other elected high official does get information about a situation, he or she has to be careful to react in just the right way.

Let's suppose for a moment that a president has always taken a soft position on allowing caffeinated soft drinks on airplanes, even though we all know that caffeine is a substance that does affect people. Caffeine has been extremely commonplace and popular on planes (and everywhere else). If news reaches a president that someone has gotten pumped up on caffeinated soft drinks on a flight and terrorized the other passengers and the crew the president is faced with some important decisions. Should he or she call for an immediate ban on caffeinated soft drinks on all flights? Should the ban apply to coffee that has not been decaffeinated? Should every person carrying painkillers that contain caffeine be checked for signs of abuse and even have their pill confiscated? What about the pilot(s) and crew? Should they be forbidden coffee and other caffeinated beverages? If a president comes down hard on the side of banning caffeine on all flights he or she is going to have to deal with a lot of public rebellion and resistance. A lot of people like their caffeine and have legitimate use for it. It makes their lives easier and even more pleasant at times. And wouldn't a passenger rather know that their pilot, who perhaps suffers from severe insomnia, had a couple of double espressos before take-off than to think he or she might doze off at the controls?

A president could just stay soft on caffeine and push to allow any and all forms of the substance to be brought on board and consumed. He or she could form a task force to study the effects of caffeine on crew and passengers and could delay an active decision on a position for years to come. A president could even ignore the whole issue or just declare it not an issue at all. No matter what the president decides to do, or not do, he or she is going to take flack from the public, from members of opposing political parties and from anyone who has anything to do with the manufacture and use of caffeine. If a president takes a hard line on caffeine a lot of people might work against all the other president's policies. Members of opposing political parties who like their caffeine on flights might actually side with the president. The press uses caffeine extensively to stay alert so they can be ready to cover the president's every move. Soda manufacturers in New York and coffee growers in Columbia will be ready to fight for the free use of caffeine on every flight. Once caffeine is banned on all flights people could fear that caffeine will be banned from school, the workplace and even become an illegal substance in a car. Open container laws could go into effect. An open can of soda could get you ten years to life.

I'm exaggerating, of course. The point is that whatever a politican decides to do about an issue will bring consequences to many. But if a politician decided to take a hard line on an issue that has been ignored (or even encouraged) for so long by so many he could end up causing a whole lot more harm than good.

Caffeine isn't illegal. What I don't understand, and maybe what citizens along the border don't understand, is why activity that is actually currently illegal is allowed to go on without a hard line, particularly in the light of 9-11. Going to a hard line position on illegal entry could mean the extreme of shooting down eight-year-old kids and mothers with babies in their arms. I don't think any reasonable human being wants to see that. In the meantime, what do we do about drug smuggling, people smuggling, extortion and the resulting crimes on this side of the border?

The events of 9-11 were easy for all of us to get riled up over. We saw a single incident that killed people and terrorized those who survived. We have watched some of those recorded events played over and over. They pull at our gut and make us want to do something. President Bush did do something. He took a hard line. Some of us agreed with his particular arena of choice and some did not. But we all agreed that something must be done. The issue of the illegal use of our borders is no less an issue of security, but the enemy can't be trimmed down to a few individuals the way it was with 9-11. Fingers are going to point in many directions if we try to secure our borders to Mexico. It's going to be a tough task that isn't fought in a venue on the other side of the planet. It's going to mean tough choices right here at home. I think President Bush knows that. And he knows American opinion has been greatly polarized over the decisions he made concerning 9-11. Nevertheless, he is our president. We all think he needs to take a stand. That's what presidents do, isn't it? They take a stand and then they deal with the consequences. They deal with the opinion polls, the legislators, the press and all the foreign and domestic issues that come up as a result of their decision.

For presidents in the past, a decision could take years to have a result. If a president took a position back East and people in the heartland reacted negatively he wouldn't even know about it for a long time. The whole time frame would look like a slow-motion replay to us. If a president makes a decision now, from that same insulated position, the reaction is instantaneous in some cases.

So the playing field has been leveled in terms of instant information, but the insulation factor is still there for a president who is surrounded by assistants and lawyers and party affiliates. The choices we would make as private citizens are not really available to President Bush. He can't see things from our perspective. I don't think that's betrayal. But I do think it means that he must deal with the fact that those of us who do see things in the instant, everyday, private-citizen kind of way are not going to be satisfied with his seemingly slow approach when we expect him to to "do something". We've created a political system whereby our representative form of government just won't allow that sort of thing. It worked well when the country was just beginning. News took weeks to reach people. The private citizen was just as insulated from a president as a president was from the private citizen. Now, for better or for worse, we see things in ways President Bush can't see them. We know it and he knows it. It's changing the face of America. And it's changed the way we perceive our elected officials. I'm not sure President Bush can decide what to do about illegal border crossings any more than he can decide what to do about caffeine on planes. He's not betraying us. He's just wearing the face of what our entire political system has become.

posted at: 09:06 | category: /Politics | link to this entry



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