In my newspaper column, reflecting on the ways 9/11 changed everything:
Can you imagine the outcry if the biggest story of the summer just ended had been, say, the death of a pop star? We wouldn't stand for it, not anymore...What if borrowing money to buy McMansions and giant trucks had been the post-terror vogue, rather than the ethic of service and simplicity that has defined the era?
You can read the whole thing after the jump.
News & Record
Remember how 9/11 was going to change everything?
That was awesome, the way it all turned out.
Not the deadly terrorist attacks, of course, but the way we learned from those terrible events, re-evaluated some fundamentals, and grew into a better country.
All you have to do is flip on the television to see the improvement. During that last summer of innocence, back in 2001, we wasted so much time and energy following lurid stories about stuff like missing interns and shark attacks. Contrast that with the sober, thoughtful news we get now, the issues covered in depth, the global outlook. Can you imagine the outcry if the biggest story of the summer just ended had been, say, the death of a pop star? We wouldn't stand for it, not anymore.
The whole tone of our public discourse has been elevated. Look at the respectful reaction to last week's presidential address to schoolchildren. Sure, it was an innocuous speech, keyed to traditional values and delivered by the duly elected chief executive of these United States, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past when even so platitudinous an event might have stirred an uproar among the opportunistic and the paranoid.
It's hard to remember, but before 9/11, political rhetoric had grown so heated and divisive that you might have seen major cable news stars calling the president a racist, or stoking conspiracy theories about his citizenship, and it would have been business as usual.
Seriously, back then people were compared to Nazis so casually that you had to wonder if anyone actually remembered who the Nazis were and what they did that made them so bad (hint: it wasn't their health care plan). Thankfully, all that has changed, too.
To take a broader view of our hard-earned progress, consider America's place in the world. Then, we were seen too often as heedless adventurers -- the kind of country that would invade a foreign land without being attacked, or even bothering to learn enough about the inhabitants and their culture to avoid getting bogged down in some sort of bloody internecine strife. That perceived arrogance was cited as a contributing factor to the climate that fostered the 9/11 attacks. What a relief that our conduct over the last eight years has put those old stereotypes to rest. Just ask our democratically elected friend, Mr. Karzai!
Now let's look deeper, at the spiritual and moral fiber of the nation. The awakening we experienced after those days of loss and fear helped move us away from the me-first acquisitiveness that marked prior decades. You younger folks may not believe it, but we once had a Federal Reserve chief who could quote Ayn Rand -- a "philosopher" whose highest value is represented by a guy taking his ball and going home -- without rolling his eyes! In hindsight it seems incredible, and more than a little bit embarrassing.
Imagine where we'd be if we'd stayed on that path, with both political parties owned by corporate interests and a casino economy that boomed, bubbled and busted without ever doing much for the average person. What if borrowing money to buy McMansions and giant trucks had been the post-terror vogue, rather than the ethic of service and simplicity that has defined the era?
Fortunately, as the bipartisan health care plan passed this summer indicates, we've learned to focus on more meaningful things. Sure, we're only halfway through our crash program to develop alternative energy sources and wean ourselves from foreign oil, but our new emphasis on long-term thinking and shared sacrifice has taken us further already than many ever dreamed possible.
Nothing can make up for the lives lost on that day eight years ago. Nothing can put the families back together, or restore the easy confidence with which Americans once moved around their own country and the world. But at least we know we've done our best to honor the dead by living up to the promises we made over their graves.
© News & Record 2009