- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

We are reverting to our previous levels of vapidity in Washington, the hot-air capital of the world.

This was not supposed to be after September 11.

We were supposed to be a changed people, a chastened people with a newfound sense of purpose and perspective. The age of irony was said to be dead. Bipartisanship was all the rage. Our adolescent fixation with celebrities was thought to be at an end.

We all knew where we were on the awful morning of September 11, and suddenly, we all knew how small and unimportant we were. We clutched our loved ones and promised to be a serious people.

But now, two years later, we are almost back where we were, forever overheated by the trivial images and noise around us.

Britney Spears brought her bellybutton to the Mall last week, and we nearly fainted in the presence of it.

The fascination with a celebrity’s bellybutton is one of the metaphors of these jarring times, as good as any place to pause.

Hers is a relatively benign bellybutton, no different from a lot of bellybuttons, and yet, it also is a zillion-dollar belly-button. It is the one bellybutton in America that says so much and means so little.

The owner of that bellybutton recently locked lips with a woman of a bygone pop-culture era, which set tongues wagging across the land. Their stunt was successful, the entertainment equivalent of “shock and awe.”

They accepted the barbs in exchange for the buzz, the currency that compels the desperate to appear on the reality shows.

The nonsense that tugs on us is in conflict with the sobering realities of an altered landscape, exemplified by the gun-adorned military vehicle that is stationed between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Pentagon. That was not our style until two years ago.

We have come to terms with the security-induced intrusions in our midst. We think nothing of the concrete barriers and police cars that have been planted around the most important symbols in the city. We think nothing of the burgeoning eye of Big Brother, the increasing deployment of surveillance cameras that monitor our every move. We have come to accept that we are guilty until proven innocent.

We attend public events and submit to the strange hands rummaging through our bags. We go to the airport and undergo a form of the strip-and-search procedure. We remain on the lookout for blue-haired grandmothers from Minnesota. Yes, we have decided that the face of terrorism looks like a blue-haired grandmother from Minnesota. This is our attempt to be enlightened.

No one ever speaks of reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. That used to be a gathering place of the people. Now that precious stretch of asphalt is a fortress that aims to keep the people at a distance.

We are becoming the land of the restricted access and the home of the banal.

We wallow in the ever-important personal affairs of Ben and Jen, evaluate the legal maneuverings of those who represent Kobe Bryant and ponder the satanic-cult theory in the murder of Laci Peterson.

We wake up each day to a good whine emanating from the idiot box. The whine is mixed with spin, lies and drivel. There rarely is any sunshine on television. There is mostly dire warnings of the sky falling.

The left/right political chasm is populated by the same old faces spouting the same old inanities. Sen. John Kerry is one of the faces — in fact, one of the funniest-looking faces in the business.

We have endured the duct-tape fad and the sick actions of the snipers. We also have ensconced ourselves in plastic sheeting and committed to memory the color-coded threat levels provided by Homeland Security.

We know the bogeymen are out there, but not all of us like the game plan that has been drafted to eliminate their presence.

We sometimes glean our insights from Michael Moore, one of the leading geopolitical strategists in America, who blames everything on the Bush administration, including his weight problem. His access to intelligence information, satellite photos and to the operation heads on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq is well-documented.

So as we reflect today on the innocents who were killed two years ago, it also might behoove us to recall the brief period of clarity that ensued.

Then, as now, nothing much is at stake other than our great city and country.

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