People Used to Resign

Scripps-Howard News Service 6.05.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Like every profession, holders of public office used to be bound by certain traditions and a largely unwritten code of ethics. Resigning from office has been a tool for protest, an acknowledgment of responsibility, a measure of good character.

But no one resigns any more. What happened?

The Clintons happened. They surrounded themselves with an unending procession of persons who simply laughed at the thousands of years directly preceding Woodstock, and saw all of the past as one big, silly mistake.

Not a single resignation for cause in eight years.

Comes now the Wall Street Journal and suggests in its lead editorial that Robert S. Muller III resign as head of the FBI. Director Mueller, asked by Tim Russert on NBC-TV's Meet the Press, made clear that it was not going to happen.

Remarkably, in the very same interview he became the first to admit that it would have been possible to prevent September 11, 2001, had the information been properly tabulated.

First blood.

We are looking at the emergence of a legacy we wish we could put in a deep vault, never to be opened. We are looking at the horrible recognition - it might take a year for the awesome reality to sink in completely - that September 11, 2001 was indeed preventable.

We will have to look into the eyes of the families who dream every night of their loved one leaping from a window above the point of impact.

We will have to look into the eyes of children whose father perished in the attempt to save those below the point of impact.

They will look back at us with silent questions. And the answers will come, if they haven't already.

The 19 (20?) mass-murderers should not have been in the country.

If somehow they managed to be in the country, they should have been under constant surveillance, especially after they had enrolled in flight training schools.

If they somehow escaped attention and made it to the airline counter, they should have been apprehended there.

If they somehow managed to board the aircraft, the doors should not have closed.

If the doors somehow closed, take-off should have been aborted.

If the planes managed to take off, they should never have made it to their targets.

So, as you see, dear reader, Mr. Mueller is not even first in line.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is a part of the Department of Justice. The Attorney General has every reason to resign.

It is only after John Ashcroft thus restores dignity to public service that Mr. Mueller's turn comes, and mostly for the widely reported inertia that appears to characterize the FBI during the months since 9/11.

Of course, if General Ashcroft can point to steps he had taken to enforce our immigration laws, my most humble apology will be owed to him.

Hopefully, Mr. Norman Mineta, Secretary of Transportation, can also tell us what he was doing between his confirmation and that fateful day to ensure the safety of Americans flying over their homeland. Otherwise, he, too, owes this nation his immediate resignation.

Unless the chief executives of the two airlines involved can demonstrate due diligence in appointing and instructing supervisors to train check-in and on-board personnel in the basic use of their brains, they would be next in line to announce that spending more time with their families was the right thing to do.

Whether it is the Secretary of the Air Force, or someone higher, to take the blame for the inability of the world's greatest aerial power to respond effectively is a matter for the Commander-in-Chief. And so is this: Who, ultimately, was responsible for national security on that Tuesday?

Because, whoever it was, has the following question to answer: Was there a meeting of the appropriate group some time in the spring of 2001? And was the question posed: "So what are the Arabs doing in America right now, and who is going to collect and tabulate that information?"

For, if this did not occur, even the most erudite and charming person, even if she is a fellow pianist, will have to stand up and accept the responsibility.

It is unseemly for an immigrant to propose the resignation of people at the zenith of their career - people who have every reason to feel they had done no wrong.

But wrongdoing is by no means the sole reason for honorable people to resign. A monumental national tragedy any one of them might have prevented is reason enough.