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Instead of Waving the Flag for Patriotism, Wave That Visa Card

November 14, 2001|KEVIN COWHERD | BALTIMORE SUN

Boy, times sure have changed when it comes to war.

Sixty years ago, when we fought in Europe and Japan, Americans were asked to help the war effort by enlisting in the armed forces, demonstrating sacrifice and vigilance (Remember "Loose lips sink ships"?) and focusing our national resolve on defeating the enemy.

Today, Americans are asked to help the war effort by "getting back to our normal lives."

Which apparently means: spend, spend, spend!

You get the feeling if everyone in the country would only break out the MasterCard, we could whip these terrorists in a matter of days.

Go out to a restaurant, we're told again and again.

Take in a movie.

Buy a new car or big-screen TV.

And for God's sake, if you have a big vacation planned, a trip to Hawaii or the Caribbean or something, go!

Enjoy yourself!

In fact, why not upgrade to first class on the flight! And get a better rental car--no Ford Taurus this time, bub! Hey, who deserves to be lounging on a bone-white beach with a few mai-tais more than you?

And remember: These days, it's your patriotic duty to tip 20%.

And so we're assaulted daily with one not-so-subtle pitch after another to spend money so we can whip the darn Taliban and get this country back on its feet.

Buick ads urge: "Let's keep America rolling ... together."

Implicit is this message: Look, the flyboys are bombing Afghanistan to kingdom come, and the Delta Force guys are rooting through every dank cave to find Osama bin Laden--and we're doing our part by keeping our auto dealerships open every day.

The least you can do is take advantage of our 0% financing and buy a new Regal.

Ads for beleaguered United Airlines proclaim: "Time to get back to business. Especially if your business is having fun. Great rates ... to international destinations." ($179 to Frankfurt!)

Best Western ("The World's Largest Hotel Chain") ads blare: "Now's the best time to get back on the road and visit family and friends."

Even Rudy Giuliani, the new saint of New York, is shilling hard during this national crisis.

In a new commercial, Hizzoner is sitting on the steps of what appears to be a museum, a can of soda held casually in one hand as he gushes: "The New York miracle! Come be a part of it!"

He doesn't say: "And bring your checkbook!"

He doesn't say: "And spend 4 bucks for this can of soda, like I did!"

But we can only imagine those two snippets ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Sometimes, it all becomes a little surreal, this curious campaign to "lead our normal lives" and spend our way to victory in America's latest war.

The other day, I came upon a newspaper ad for "America's Historic Triangle," the Virginia tourist attractions of the Jamestown settlement, Colonial Williamsburg and the Yorktown Victory Center.

"There's nothing like a trip to America's past to restore your faith in its future," the ad trumpeted.

Fine. So far so good.

"The early colonists battled impossible odds to snatch freedom from the hands of tyranny," the ad went on to say. "And their sacrifice, courage and perseverance serve as an inspiration to keep America strong and great. Make plans to visit these historic sites. In times like these, it's a trip well worth taking."

OK, you're reaching a little here, but I'm still with you.

Then came the kicker: "$69 per person per night, two-night minimum for room and admission to all three sites."

"Now that's a deal that'll make you feel patriotic!"

And when you get there, forget about waving those tiny American flags. Instead, hold up those Discover cards.

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