Mayhem in Washington

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There are certainly different ways of looking at what happened Thursday near the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

An unarmed woman, Miriam Carey, 34, a dental hygienist from Stamford, Conn., accompanied in her car by her 1-year-old daughter, was shot dead in a hail of gunfire after apparently having tried to penetrate White House and then Capitol security barriers, having also raced down Pennsylvania Avenue between the two sites.

The security guards' position is clear and probably justifiable. One threat the guards at both locations must defend against is car bombs, which meant they had to stop her somehow. She even struck one of them with the car in her maneuvering, putting his life at risk.

But why didn't the guards shoot out Ms. Carey's tires, immobilizing her vehicle? Then they could have waited her out, obliging her to exit the vehicle. Why did they have to shoot her, risking the life of her child as well in firing what may have been 17 shots? Her body apparently was so damaged by the gunfire that it initially was difficult to identify her.

It appears that Ms. Carey had mental health problems that perhaps started as postpartum depression. If she had been armed, this may have become yet another case of an American with mental health problems seeking to gun down as many people as possible, such as in Newtown, Aurora, Blacksburg or Tucson. This time the person with the mental health problems and the people who did the shooting were not the same.

After-the-fact investigation indicates that Ms. Carey may have believed that she was under surveillance by President Barack Obama and was being bombarded by electronic messages from him, not unlike Aaron Alexis, who carried out the attack at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12, two weeks before.

It is not out of the question that Ms. Carey's perception was influenced to some extent by the fact that, as recent reporting has indicated, the National Security Agency is intercepting and monitoring Americans' phone calls, emails and Internet communications and the government and telecom providers are using cellphone data to track us -- where we are, what we buy, with whom we are in contact, etc.

There is also no question but that the Navy Yard attack, which took place not far from the White House and Capitol, played a role in the trigger-happy response of government security guards to Ms. Carey's actions.

The sharp line in this for me is that both "Squeaky" Fromme and John Hinckley, both of whom took a shot at an American president in clear sight of Secret Service and other guards, were allowed to live. Both are still alive, in fact. Someone else will have to raise Ms. Carey's daughter.

There might be an argument that her acts took place after 9/11 -- the attack that jacked security up to unbelievable degrees in Washington and elsewhere in the country. On the other hand, to put what she did and a possible 9/11-type attack in the same box is silly. Could the White House and Capitol security guards not have just looked into the car, seen a woman and a child, and behaved accordingly?

Another argument that risks moving into the ridiculous is that the security guards were especially jumpy and thus potentially homicidal because they were concerned that the absurd behavior of Washington's governing class might prompt some sort of violent attack on the president or Congress. In the face of the lunatic government shutdown and the possible catastrophic default on America's debts, it is not unreasonable to imagine that those who provide physical protection to government officials might think they hear the screech and chonk of American citizens practicing with guillotines and be spooked into unreasonable actions.

The focus now is on how various Washington players could be coaxed into climbing down from their high horses to make an American people-saving deal. The government needs to reopen before any more damage is done.

President Barack Obama, by missing both the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and East Asia Summit meetings because of the Washington crisis and leaving the field to China's President Xi Jinping in his absence, in effect found staves in the side of his "pivot to Asia," a major policy setback. Mr. Obama's position on the shutdown and the coming bill-paying crisis are probably right, but if he were the kind of respected, deal-making politician-president that America has sometimes had, he could be brokering the deal instead of being part of the problem.

The situation in the House of Representatives basically has Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, insisting on his right to sell the country down the river in order to protect his job from the Tea Party rats, led by Canadian-born clown-senator Ted Cruz, gnawing at his feet of clay. It has always been clear that Mr. Boehner didn't amount to much, but some figures rise to greatness in the face of crisis. Mr. Boehner just becomes shriller and stupider. The other morning he squeaked that this wasn't "some damn game." We knew that.

The Senate has ex-boxer Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on one side and on the other Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is off the field because he is faced by a Tea Party opponent in an upcoming Republican primary.

Washington is truly disgusting. That is more reason for people guarding its non-leaders not to shoot a disturbed woman with a child on board in order to protect them.

dansimpson

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (dsimpson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1976). First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM


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