9/11 Shelf Life: What Happened?
Six years after the fact, the attacks of September 11th seem to have lost their cultural relevancy for much of America. In a thought-provoking essay Jonah Goldberg wonders how we got to this point. In his view, it is largely a communication issue, something for which the media shares a significant amount of blame (h/t Ace):
[I]t’s important to remember that from the outset, the media took it as their sworn duty to keep Americans from getting too riled up about 9/11. I wrote a column about it back in March of 2002. Back then the news networks especially saw it as imperative that we not let our outrage get out of hand. I can understand the sentiment, but it’s worth noting that such sentiments vanished entirely during hurricane Katrina. After 9/11, the press withheld objectively accurate and factual images from the public, lest the rubes get too riled up. After Katrina, the press endlessly recycled inaccurate and exaggerated information in order to keep everyone upset. The difference speaks volumes.
The column I wrote in 2002 was subtitled “I want to be disturbed.” It seems that when it comes to 9/11 it would have been more fashionable if I’d written some pabulum subtitled “I wanna be sedated.”
But it isn't just the media who are to blame for this communication problem, Goldberg argues. The Bush administration also shares some of that responsibility:
Democrats have been hyper-partisan all the while claiming Bush is too partisan. Absolutely, the double standards applied to Bush-hatred and Clinton-hatred, are infuriatingly stacked. Without a doubt, the notion that politics should end at the water’s edge has become for many liberals the political equivalent of the Edsel: an outdated relic of a bygone era worthy of nostalgia, bemusement and even mockery.
But you know what? That doesn’t let Bush off the hook. Presidents have faced stubborn opponents before, and they have succeeded in co-opting and cajoling them into the bandwagon. Bush has defined leadership as doing what he has to do. There’s much to recommend this sort of thing in an amorphous war like the one in which we find ourselves.
But if this is really “World War IV,” if it’s comparable to the Cold War, then you can’t just write off the Loyal Opposition until it becomes joined at the hip with the Permanent Opposition. If we are in a generations-long battle against an existential foe, then you can’t define domestic success as merely steamrolling this or that amendment to the FISA law through Congress. You need to define success as making such reforms uncontroversial. Better to have things be a little more difficult for the CIA, have a bit more oversight at the FBI, if in exchange Democrats see this as their war too. It should be more difficult to launch a pre-emptive war than a straightforward war of self-defense. Yes: The Democrats who voted for the war should be ashamed of themselves — not for their votes, per se, but for the transparent cynicism they employed while casting them, and for the dishonorable way in which they turned their backs on those votes the second the political slot machine failed to pay out in the way that they hoped. But, George Bush lacked the political imagination to keep the Democrats within the tent.
Goldberg is right in many ways here, however, I think Ace is correct in noting that the sheer fact that real wars require the expenditure of blood, treasure, and time is probably the biggest reason that the media party (i.e. the establishment left) has joined hand-in-hand with the far left:
Yes, Bush has been a rather poor president on most matters, and has not been an effective leader or communicator, but the left -- including "sensible liberals" -- were in the main opposed to this war, including the one in Afghanistan, from the beginning. They didn't see it as America's war, but a war they had to permit the rightwing to fight to get it out of our excitable systems.
What they're angry about is that war did not end quickly enough -- not for the sake of actual victory, but to get the issue of war off the table so that they could go back to preaching a naive philosophy of appeasement and prostration without paying a political penalty for doing so. Oddly, had Bush won the war faster and more decisively, it would have benefited liberals. It is the lingering nature of it that hurts them.
But we don't fight wars for the benefit of one party or another, and we don't schedule them so as not to "distract" from supposedly more pressing domestic issues. We fight wars for the benefit of America and (sometimes) he allies, and liberals have never seemed to have much interest in actual winning the war, so much as just wishing the whole bother to be done with.
The left is much like Maureen Dowd and Wonkette and, of course, Andrew Sullivan: They're annoyed that all this "boy stuff" is taking the spotlight off them and their girl-stuff priorities.
And no matter how well Bush conducted himself as President, that would not have changed.
One of my favorite blogs to read is Small Dead Animals, a Canadian site, which proves almost daily that had President Bush not invaded Iraq, we'd be having the same hand-wringing and fear-mongering over the Afghanistan war.