Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on the shores of the United States Of America. While there were official remembrance ceremonies in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania and throughout the country, there were unofficial remembrances throughout various forms of media recounting where we all were ten years ago as the first plane hit. Then the second. Then third. And finally a forth.
There is merit to a cathartic exercise for all of us to collectively remember and relive the shock, horror, and bundle of emotion that poured through confused and frightened Americans on September 11th, 2001. The day now stands alongside November 22, 1963 and December 7th, 1941 as times when Americans were collectively shocked into new realities of the world around us. The day was transformative, and it changed us.
Less focus, however, is paid to where we stood as a nation when we awoke on September 12th, 13th, and the days and months that followed. For a brief moment in time, the word United in United States of America meant something more than it normally does. Partisanship was set aside for decisions on what the country needed to do in order to begin repair, to seek justice on those who orchestrated the cold blooded murders, and to ensure that the country would not face such atrocities again.
To fully appreciate the spirit of unity in the days that followed, we must remember how divided the country was the morning the planes took off. We were less than one year from a bitter and unprecedented re-count in a Presidential election, with many Americans still claiming the Presidency of George W. Bush illegitimate. The Senate had been under Democratic control for less than 4 months, as the Democrats were able to convince Jim Jeffords of Vermont to switch parties. The partisanship was bitter and tense. On the morning of September 12th, however, it did not seem to matter.
Among the first official meetings held by President Bush was one with New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. They came requesting money to aid New York City for rebuilding and aid to first responders. Expecting to receive pushback due to tight fiscal conditions, they instead received more than requested, and a pledge for more funds if needed.
The days and months that followed included vigorous public debate on various responses. Initially, the debate was not partisan, but with Congressional leaders of both parties sitting at the table with the President and key members of the executive branch. We had real and unfamiliar problems to solve, and all ideas were needed on the table. By the time President Bush delivered his famous “Let’s Roll” speech in Atlanta on November 8th, 2001, the country stood United. One Nation, Under God, Indivisible.
It regrettably did not take long for the usual divisions to creep back in to the partisan nature of our country’s governance. The federal government is too large, with two much money and control hanging in the balance, for sides not to eventually divide over how to gain advantage and upper hand.
Today, we are as divided as a country as any time in the last century. We have marked the anniversary honorably, yet will today return to our expected partisan vitriol. Both major political parties stand at stark contrast of how to face the severe challenges our country faces today. Vigorous debate should not only be expected, but encouraged.
When our country is united, we have always risen to every challenge presented to us. The first responders to 9/11 were those on Flight 93, who didn’t spend any time figuring out who was Republican, nor who was Democrat. They figured out who were the terrorists, and what they intended to do if not stopped. Together, they took a plane bound for Washington D.C. and made sure it got no closer than Shanksville Pennsylvania.
The national debate we are currently having is one where too often, we seek to represent the policy views we present as just and good, and those who oppose are evil and corrupt. The reality, in most cases, is we are battling over shades of gray. In the process, there is no reason to demonize opponents as un-American.
Partisanship is part of our system to delineate and advance policy. It should not be a way to divide Americans into less than what we are. As important as the individual issues may be, no single issue should trump the miracle that is the United States Of America.
The forth plane that crashed 10 years ago Sunday was actually the first response of Americans uniting against a common enemy. Yet for a large part of the decade since passed, we have found new ways to divide and fight among ourselves. Left divided, we will not stand.
We must use this anniversary to honor them by re-committing to a United States of America. Many differences, but one nation. That is the most honorable and fitting tribute we can offer to the heroes of September 11th.