Heroes and bullies

Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday morning unleashed a rant ranging from excoriation to ridicule on the subject of President Obama taking time today, while Japan burns and Libya suffers, to discuss with ESPN’s Doris Burke his NCAA basketball bracket picks.

The usual Limbaugh, I thought, clever but unfair, and yet ... It reminded me of something that has been bugging me lately. Why is Barack Obama so silent on events that are wracking the world? (He did suggest while talking to Burke that people go to USAid.gov for a list of charities providing help to the Japanese people.)

The question crystallized for me last Thursday when he and Michelle hosted the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. School bullying is a serious subject, and, as a mother of three, I made more than my share of calls to teachers, parents and administrators imploring them to make the bullying stop. And it was, as always, interesting to hear the president mention the teasing he took because of his big ears and to hear the first lady talk about their daughter Sasha.

But there could not have been a worse time to stage this East Room gathering of 150 — not when the world’s ranking bully, Moammar Gadhafi, is getting his way in Libya, most recently celebrating as his forces retook Ajdabiya, bombed by Gadhafi’s air force, bombarded by his missiles, heavy artillery and tanks, leaving the city in a bloody ruin.

Am I arguing that Obama — pressed by the Arab League to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, and urged by allies such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron to join them in such a move — should be taking the lead in organizing that military move? Not necessarily, and it may be too late for a no-fly zone anyway, but he ought to give more evidence that focusing on the horrors of Gadhafi’s brutal crackdown is at the top of his to-do list.

To borrow a word from Limbaugh’s lexicon, ditto Japan. Is he waiting to see if heightened levels of radiation hit America’s West Coast?

“Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers” was the headline of a New York Times story. “A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.”

Those men — the Times called them “the faceless 50” — should get the Nobel Peace Prize, I thought. Then a few minutes later came a news alert from The Washington Post that the workers, who have likely been exposed to dangerous and perhaps deadly radiation while pumping seawater on radioactive material, had been evacuated; staying was just too risky. As of the last news alert, they’re back. Exiting and then re-entering: that’s one definition of hell — and heroism.