On the morning of September 11, 2001, my wife woke me and turned on CNN. I watched the second plane hit the tower and I watched the twin towers collapse. I saw the damage done to the Pentagon. We kept our children home from school and I spent the next 12 hours glued to the television. That night at 10 pm, I opened my program with a guest and asked whether American foreign policy played any role motivating the terrorists. In the middle of a commercial break, my boss called me and told me I was committing career suicide. "This is a time for being warm and consoling and sympathetic. People are scared. It is not the time to be asking about blame or suggesting we brought this on ourselves." He would call back 2 or 3 more times, each call more apoplectic than the last. He didn't think listeners could handle the questions being asked. He felt they needed to be coddled and handled with kid gloves. He knew I would be accused of insensitivity at best and treason and hatred of country at worst. He was right about the aftermath. The accusations flew fast and furious. He was right about the jarring nature of the presentation that night. He was right when he observed people were sad and distressed and wanted comfort. He was wrong about my career or my read of my audience. My ratings skyrocketed. People wanted an adult discussion. They wanted to explore and understand and they listened night after night. I killed my career... of that there is no doubt...but it didn't happen on September 11, 2001. On that occasion, I showed the respect for my audience they deserved. I refused to pander and I was convinced we had ignored the consequences of the "Gore in the Gulf" and other policies in the Middle East and Muslim world. Unfortunately, my audience proved to be the exception to the rule.
Newsweek's cover has the word "resilient" plastered across it; referring to the American people and their reaction to the events of September 11th. Nothing could be farther from the truth. My listeners refused to be afraid and demanded answers. Americans in general were just the opposite. The last thing they wanted was answers. They were scared and what they wanted was someone to promise to protect them and get those responsible for attacking us. They wanted to strike back. They wanted the fear to stop and anyone who promised to meet those needs was embraced. The American people aren't resilient. They aren't rugged individualists. They aren't continuing the line of good pioneering stock that won the West. The American people are easily frightened and easily stampeded and they don not want, to this day, to be confronted with uncomfortable truths about the nature of the world and our role in it.
Do you remember what happened to Bill Maher when he observed you could call the attackers murderers and terrorists, but the one thing you couldn't call them was cowards? He noted someone willing to die for their cause may be crazy or misguided, but they aren't cowards. For this, he lost he show on ABC and was drummed off the air even after engaging in a humiliating tour of media outlets apologizing profusely for committing the unforgiveable act of telling the truth.
Within months of the attack, Congress passed the Patriot Act and the "resilient" American people cheered. Have you ever asked yourself how a body which can't get out of its own way, was able to draft and pass and send to the President a comprehensive anti-terrorist piece of legislation in such a short period of time? Most members hadn't even read it. When civil libertarians raised questions about the wisdom of giving the government the power to spy on its citizens, sneak into their homes, bug their phones and computers, seize their library records and eviscerate the 4th and 5th amendments, and do all of this in secret, they were greeted by shouts of " appeaser" and "traitor" and accused of being "soft" on terrorism by those same "resilient" Americans.
We now know the corporate media was scared to death of the "resilient" American population. Dan Rather and other journalists have admitted they were intimidated and wary of asking the White House and Congress attacking...aggressive questions for fear of losing viewers or readers angry at the way their protectors were being treated. President Bush was given a free pass when he implied Iraq was involved in the planning and execution of September 11th and faced no scrutiny, except by Joe Wilson, when he claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. For years, he and Cheney et. al. would get away with lying and manipulating the facts to justify starting two wars, and the dismantling of most of our significant civil liberties.
In December of 2001, President Bush ordered the National Security Agency (NSA) to being to illegally monitor all phone and electronic media used by American citizens. He told them not to worry about warrants or the need for probable cause. Because a feckless Congress, led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and with then Senator Obama's assent, agreed to give the telecom companies immunity from prosecution or lawsuits, we will never know the extent or the breadth of this illegal activity. The Congress was afraid to stand up to the "resilient" Americans and the people accepted all of this as if it were a pacifier to be suckled and embraced. These rugged individualist descendants of John Wayne and Paul Bunyan were willing to throw away the very protections the terrorists hated the most, because they were scared and were willing to give up any freedom to get a little security.
Give President Bush and Vice President Cheney their due. In 1998, they signed on to a document by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) that concluded the American people needed a new Pearl Harbor to scare them into accepting war with Iraq and a dramatic dilution of their civil liberties. 3 years later, they used the irrational reaction of Americans to turn this nation into a shadow of its constitutional self.
Americans are still scared. They can still be stampeded into accepting legislation and foreign policy that is crippling this nation. They have accepted a Department of Homeland Security which is sucking up resources with little to show for it. President Obama will ask for over $80 billion to fund the national security/anti-terrorism programs of our government. You can still be assured of garnering headlines and votes by waving the bloody shirt of terrorism and watching Americans kneel in fear. If you doubt this, just watch Congressman Peter King (R. NY). He raised money and politically supported terrorists (IRA) when they represented his political and personal views, but now gets front-page treatment any time he uses the word terrorism even if it is to oppose a mosque and community center being proposed for New York City.
September 11th proved one absolute truth. No one can ever lose politically by overestimating how easily the American people can be manipulated through the use of various bogeymen and their collective fear. Newsweek is wrong. A resilient people would have stood up, dusted themselves off, gone back to work and refused to be used to advance a regressive agenda which leaves the nation worse off 10 years later. A resilient people would have fought to protect their basic rights. A resilient people would have been outraged to find out their government was torturing people in secret prisons. A resilient people would never have supported two unnecessary and immoral wars and the loss of so many soldiers and treasure just to feel a little more secure. This anniversary would be worth celebrating were we a stronger and more mature nation because of the attacks. Unfortunately, just the opposite is true.