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Ron Callari: Duct & Cover

Duct & Cover

By Ron Callari

The Bush dynasty continues to etch its legacy into the nation’s collective psyche. Bush Senior, pre-September 11th took credit for ending the Cold War, single-handedly. Post –attacks, Bush Junior, not one to be overshadowed by Daddy Dearest ascends to the role of protector against the Axis of Evil and handyman-extraordinaire for home security systems.

One would have thought we had come a long way from the warning sirens of school intercoms of the 50s -- the "Simon-says" civic exercises of the post-War baby boomer generation. "Duck and Cover" was the brainchild of an administration that ascertained school children could be brainwashed into believing they would avoid a nuclear holocaust, as long as they followed the rules.

Naïve? Yes. But the Atomic Age’s positive connotation of power, ingenuity and supremacy was a heady drug for a nation that had just decimated the likes of Hiroshima. And, if following the rules was how we could avoid a similar fate, then lead us on to the bomb shelter and don’t forget that can of Spam.

A short fifty-some-odd years later, with a Republican president back in the White House, Happy Days are here again. Forget nuclear disarmament, anti-ballistic missiles, or even diplomacy. On Feb. 11, 2003, Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge unveiled the Bush Administration's simplistic and most cost-effective weapon to date: duct tape.

Ridge's remedy was a reaction to fears that terrorists could attack the U.S. with toxin-spewing chemical concoctions and that duct tape, normally used to bond joints in heating and cooling ducts, could become the thin gray line of defense between us and our worst enemies.

Forget trying to convince France and Germany to support our ersatz need for a War in Iraq, our mighty adhesive ally is all the security this nation needs in time of crisis. It’s a versatile and durable commodity; able to keep Jennifer Lopez’s low necklines in place; tape shut criminal’s mouths in spy movies and due to its recent popularity, it is now available in assorted colors, one to match every hue of the Terror Alert System.

Mr. DeMille, duct tape is ready for its close-up. In rooms sealed off from fresh air and blue skies we can create our own realities, devoid of terrorists and mass hysteria. What better way to display our patriotic fervor than purchasing a couple of dozen rolls of gray matter for the Gipper? Coupled with Bush’s tax cuts, the low and middle classes will now also be able to contribute to the economy.

In fact we can blanket the whole country with our favorite adhesive. Slapped down securely to the east and west coasts and along the Canadian and Mexican borders, if we use bubble wrap, popping bubbles will solve the fresh air problem and will be a great distraction for the kids.

However, let’s keep the time continuum in perspective, here. In the 50s, it took us several years to get over our Manchurian Candidate obedience to the "duck and cover" civil defense drills. Today we are a much more sophisticated people. In the Electronic Age, positions can change at lightning speed. In less than four days after Ridge’s first taping, Bush urged his Homeland Security Commander-in-Chief to downplay his original message – to adhere to a less stick-tuitive plan.

With major backpedaling in play, Ridge noted: "I want to make something very, very clear at this point. We do not want individuals or families to start sealing their doors or windows." The administration said the department had only recommended that people secure those items as part of an emergency supply kit to be used, "in the unlikely but possible event something could occur in your community."

Too little too late? What is at stake here is not just the importance of a popular adhesive, but a system of values. Duct tape is analogous to the easy fix that requires little thought. "It’s perfect for the lazy guy that doesn’t know how to fix things the right way", said Tim Nyberg, a co-author of the satiric "Jumbo Duct Tape Book". "If you see anything fixed with duct tape," he added, "it says the person didn’t know what he was doing."

Perhaps the leaders in charge of taping our War on Terror together should think twice before trying to placate a nation with quick-fix schemes. We are little wiser and lot more cynical about a world that is no longer black and white. And no shade of gray (tape or otherwise) is going to make us feel better about that.

Duck and cover me once, shame on you! Duct and cover me twice, shame on me!

[EDITOR'S POSTSCRIPT: After this column was written it was revealed in the Washington Post by columnist Al Kamen that: "nearly half -- 46 percent to be precise -- of the duct tape sold in [the US] is manufactured by a company in Avon, Ohio. And the founder of that company, that would be Jack Kahl, gave how much to the Republican National Committee and other GOP committees in the 2000 election cycle? Would that be more than $100,000?"]


Ron Callari is a freelance journalist and editorial cartoonist who resides in Jersey City, New Jersey. He and co-creator Jack Pittman produce kidd millennium cartoons weekly. See…

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