Belfast Telegraph

Shadow of hypocrisy hanging over the US

Walter Ellis reporting from New York

Charlene Correia, a nursing supervisor from Massachusetts, got it just about right. "I may sound callous," she said, "but doesn't grieving have a shelf life?"

She was talking about the annual melancholy that descends on New York in advance of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

This year is one of those awkward ones. The first, fifth and tenth anniversaries of national traumas are invariably well observed. But the sixth is betwixt and between.

Not that that bothers the Families. The Families, wrapped in their shrouds, are in permanent mourning. The attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 2,752 people in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, elevated the relatives of the dead to a special, and jealously-guarded, status, and they are having none of the argument that enough is enough.

Thus, the bells will toll, prayers will be uttered from public platforms and the city and the nation will once again come to a standstill.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, America was at its best. Since then, it has lost its way. The war in Iraq, to which Tony Blair pledged Britain's allegiance, is an unmitigated disaster. Worse than that, it is a disgrace. God knows how many hundreds of thousands of people, most of them innocent Iraqis, have died in the four and a half years since President George W Bush decided to pin the blame for 9/11 on Saddam Hussein.

But though there will certainly be a national memorial to the American servicemen and women who have died in the conflict, there will be no official acknowledgement of the dead and maimed of Iraq. Instead - incredibly - there is renewed speculation that the US airforce may shortly be ordered to bomb Iran.

Perhaps it won't happen. But the very fact that it is under consideration is evidence of how little the Bush Administration has learned since 2003.

But should we be surprised?

There is much to admire, even love, about America. It is the most creative place on the planet, bar none, and its impact on world culture over the last 100 years is nothing less than astonishing.

But it has begun to rot from the inside.

Consider the Republican Party - the party of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D Eisenhower.

It used to be said of the Republicans than even when they got it wrong, they kept their honour intact. Presidents, senators and congressmen of the GOP (the Grand Old Party) could be trusted to keep their word and do their best for America.

Not any more.

Last weekend saw the resignation of Republican Senator Larry Craig, one of the most straight-laced and conservative politicians in the country. Craig, an outspoken opponent of same- sex marriage and gay rights, was revealed to have solicited a police officer for gay sex in a public toilet in Minneapolis.

He resigned, without admitting his guilt, after a strident campaign against him by party colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Those who demanded Craig's head did so without waiting for their old friend to come up with an explanation of his behaviour.

Republicans made out that their main objection was to the fact that he had deceived his wife. In fact, it was Craig's sexual practises that appalled them, not his adultery.

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives - the man who led the charge against Bill Clinton after the discovery that the President had conducted an affair with Monica Lewinsky - was later revealed to be living with a girl young enough to be his daughter. Other affairs were subsequently noted.

Was the GOP appalled? I don't think so. Gingrich, indeed, may even stand for the presidency in 2008. When he resigned the speakership, it was because the GOP had lost seats in the House, not because of any perceived moral lapses.

Or take the example of David Vitter, the junior senator for Louisiana, another Republican stalwart. Vitter is anti-gay and pro-family. He has said that he " believes strongly that marriage is a sacred vow between a man and a woman" .

Sadly, he was recently exposed in a court case in Washington to have been a regular client at a well-known city brothel.

So did he resign? He did not. Was he pressured by colleagues to quit? He was not.

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," he said, clearly abnegating all responsibility. "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there - with God and them."

Back in Louisiana, where he visited whorehouses over many years, it was stressed that Vitter was not a freak. " He was not into anything unusual or kinky or weird," one madame explained.

So that's all right, then. Fair play to him. The GOP knows a 'real man' when it sees one.

Maybe political parties have shelf lives as well.

Belfast Telegraph


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