The Politics of 9/11 Weekend

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tribute in light seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park, September 11, 2011. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Andrea Bernstein, WNYC reporter and director of the Transportation Nation blog, and Bob Hennelly, WNYC senior reporter, talked about Sunday's 9/11 ceremony.

How 9/11 anointed Bloomberg

Given the current state of things—Congress' abysmal approval rating, gridlock on Capitol Hill, how hard it is for the President to schedule a speech—the political unity we experienced in the wake of 9/11 seems a fantasy.

But it was very real, remembers Andrea Bernstein. She told Brian Lehrer that Americans' desire for political stability—any stability—was so strong that incumbent politicians in the New York City area were more popular than any others in the country. It would have gotten Mayor Rudy Giuliani re-elected in 2002 if he hadn't been term-limited out, Bernstein said; but he was viewed so favorably post-9/11 that when he endorsed Michael Bloomberg, it was as good as appointing him.

On 9/11 that was the Democratic mayoral primary and at the time Bloomberg was 25 points behind. When we woke up that day to cover the election, we were convinced that the next mayor of New York City was going to be selected among the Democratic field. That didn't happen in large part because of the transference of blessing from Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg.

Waking the sleeping giant

It goes without saying that mayoral politics is minutiae compared to 9/11's effect on the world at large. In fact, it was reflection upon the latter that Bob Hennelly said was lacking from yesterday's anniversary proceedings. Hennelly took issue with what some public speakers said as well as what they neglected to say, singling out Vice President Joe Biden for his comment that the attacks "woke a sleeping giant."

Yes, we woke up a sleeping giant perhaps, but this is a sleeping giant who is deeply in debt, who is ensnared in overt wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and covert operations in several other countries. So much of our current economic problems can be traced back to that. 

Emotional and psychological healing has yet to yield healing policies. Ten years later, we are still far from being the nation we were before September 11th. But Hennelly said that in terms of global awareness, perhaps there's a silver lining to being woken.

I would hope that if 9/11 does anything, it gives us a new global literacy. We had a blind spot on September 11th through which those planes flew. The best deterrent is to have a kind of global engagement, being more aware of what's going on around us. 

No longer Jihad

America had to become very aware very quickly with the advent of the Arab Spring, which gave us the opportunity to forge new relationships with the Arab world that could be more positive and productive than the ones we had with old regimes. Hennelly wondered how well the United States could navigate this new Middle East, and if that might be the best protection of all.

From Egypt to Tunisia, the cry in the street is no longer "Jihad!", but "Give me a job!" We have a whole generation of the Arab street that is coming into its own, that wants their nations back. You saw the fall of [Hosni] Mubarak—to a large degree his existence was part of the petri dish that gave rise to the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. Now that that's fallen away, can America be a handmaiden to this rebirth of potentiality?


Andrea Bernstein and Bob Hennelly


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Comments [30]

Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@Edward from NJ

I didn't know that but I'm not surprised...

Sep. 12 2011 10:58 AM
BPC Lee from WTC

I couldn't help but notice the absence of any reference in the media to the connection between the war in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine and how it was brought to the U.S. on 9-11. We were attacked because of how our government blindly supports Israel! It's our governments poor judgment by supporting an unpopular player in Middle East politics that prompted the attack. That fact should be in the education material produced by the 9-11 memorial and museum but is stricken from that too. Who's the represser now?

Sep. 12 2011 10:51 AM
John A.

My vote was for religious inclusion and not exclusion on this event. If god was mentioned twice, it was just said unthinkingly - to offend athiests - someone just isn't getting along in this pluralist society.

Sep. 12 2011 10:44 AM
Edward from NJ

@Sophie, it will be called "Patriot Day". I've already seen it on some calendars.

Sep. 12 2011 10:43 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

I predict: In a few years "911" will become a national holiday, which will result in another shop-to-remember-day.

Sep. 12 2011 10:41 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

BTW, people objecting to the biblical references show a foolish bias informed possibly by ignorance about the bible.

The Judaic/Christian bible, whether you believe in God or not, has MUCH wisdom in it about human nature.

The stories are allegories and can be viewed as some of the greatest of human literature, to be read for the same reasons we read other great literature.

Sep. 12 2011 10:38 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I want to comment on something which I think reflects on where our culture has evolved to -- which in a way, is also echoed by the typically narrow-minded, one-sided, extremist, non-moderate comments/blogs on sites such as this.

The main point is asking why some (for those of you who cannot read thoroughly, I repeat that word -- SOME) families of those non-responders who died in the 9/11 attack, why some of those families cannot understand & accept the difference between their lost loved ones and the responders -- the firemen, the EMR, the NYPD, & PA police, etc.

Non-responders who died or were injured were VICTIMS; responders were HEROES.

This seems blatantly obvious to me.

But the fact that some people have a problem with this simple distinction is a sad commentary on our society... it seems to me it bespeaks the "me" mentality.

Very sad.

Sep. 12 2011 10:34 AM
Tom O'Hara from Malverne, Long Island

Re the applause for President Bush: I suspect that it may have come from 9/11 families that had a direct relationship with the president back then. A close friend of mine lost his wife on 9/11. She was one of the real heroes, and my friend actually spoke yesterday at the memorial. He has met President Bush several times and has formed that connection. Despite everything that happened after 9/11 with Bush, my friend remains fiercely loyal (and is anti-Obama). He had a contingent with him yesterday (who applauded after HE spoke)and I would not be surprised if that's where the applause for Bush came from.

Sep. 12 2011 10:29 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Ash
Here, Here! Couldn't agree more.

As for the question about unity...unity will last about 2 seconds and it will be business as usual in Washington.

Sep. 12 2011 10:29 AM
Derek Kleinbaum from Brooklyn

I have a few comments,

1) Isn't reading from the Christian bible (or any religious text) a way of making some feel excluded from the occasion? Muslims, Atheists, etc.? Shouldn't inclusion be the highest aim of this kind of remembrance?

2) Why aren't the causes of this tragedy talked about more? What would drive anyone to do such a terrible act? Isn't this also a chance to reflect on what it is about our culture that seems to make others feel the need to tear it down, viz. selfish consumerism and ignorance to what we have done in the past to other countries to contribute to the worlds ills, etc? Surely we can't hold ourselves completely innocent from the reasons that led us to being the victims of such an act.

Sep. 12 2011 10:27 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

Gov. Christie's shutdown of the ARC Tunnel is one the greatest bumbles for the metro area in a long time. We all are paying for his rash, short-sighted and vision-less decision. It was a true failure.

Sep. 12 2011 10:26 AM
Mike from queens

I would like to think that if I lost a loved one in a natural disaster, I would not seek to avenge their death. Nature is impersonal. I would also like to think that if I lost someone due to either human accident or violence, I would also take it as an act of "human nature" and impersonal, not seeking vengence.

Sep. 12 2011 10:25 AM
Reba Shimansky from Manhattan

Applause for Bush 43 at the 09/11 ceremonies was outrageous.
The fact is that on Aug. 6,2001 received an briefing from the CIA informing him that Al Qaeda would be attacking on US soil. His response was "now that you covered your ass" and went back to vacationing at his ranch at Crawford.
The fact is that Bush`s incompetence allowed 09/11 to happen.
He also used Nazi tactics to steal the presidency; started 2 unnecessary wars where one million Iraqis and 4 Americans died in vain. That makes him a war criminal.
When will this worthless creature from hell ever pay for all his sins against humanity.

Sep. 12 2011 10:24 AM
Bill from Putnam Valley

Thank you Bob for commenting on the inherent narcissism of the ceremonies and the lack of reflection on the enormity of our reaction to the attack and the slaughter of tens of thousands that has followed. Shameful.

Sep. 12 2011 10:23 AM
Ash in Chelsea

I heard one of your guests ask, "Who declared it a secular affair?"

Well, I -- for one -- wish that our government would remember that by definition, its business should be secular! Theisms and religions should be confined to places and gatherings assembled for that purpose and NOT the public at large -- which includes many people who don't subscribe to the popular notion of god or its inclusions in governmental matters.

Sep. 12 2011 10:22 AM
Adrienne from New York City

it helps that others are upset with all this 9/11 coverage. I haven't forgotten and won't ever. This wallowing is really distressing to me. I usually listen to WNYC all the time. Yesterday was afraid to turn it on and all last week I was checking the programming.
I thought that today the 9/11 programming would stop!!
I don't need to cry any more.

Sep. 12 2011 10:22 AM
Joel from Nyack

Does anyone consider that any reference to "god" in a supposedly secular ceremony might offend atheists?

Sep. 12 2011 10:19 AM

You know, I mean, I'm sort of, I mean, y'know.

I mean, I'm a professional, like, y'know, broadcast journalist. But I mean, you'd, like, never sort of know it. You know?

Sep. 12 2011 10:17 AM
cynzanne from Brooklyn NY

I agree with you completely. At a secular event I was stunned that the first word out of Obama's mouth was GOD!

Sep. 12 2011 10:17 AM
Rosemarie from Manhattan

The words and therefore the meaning has been changed:
Instead of "when my father was killed" the daughter said "when my father passed away". This is so wrong - we should say it like it is (was) and not water down the language and it's impact.

Sep. 12 2011 10:17 AM
JMS from Brooklyn

As he so often does, Paul Krugman says what others are unwilling to say. From a blog entry posted yesterday:

"What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

"A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

"The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it."

Sep. 12 2011 10:16 AM
Bobby G from East Village

The decency expressed yesterday is in sharp contrast to our debased politics especially in the Congress.

Sep. 12 2011 10:15 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

"To his credit"?
It was a secular affair before he read that. NO CLERGY were reading. That greatly disappointed me.

As an atheist, I did not want to hear it.

Sep. 12 2011 10:15 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

"emotion that doesn't call up reason"...Perfectly captures the problem with these jingoistic, simplistic types...?

Sep. 12 2011 10:15 AM
Jacinta from Brooklyn, NY

While the ceremonies to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11 were solemn and moving, I have to admit that I found myself wishing there was some original thought and original words. We had words from the Bible, Abraham Lincoln, and Shakespeare, but nothing new. Are we afraid to speak for ourselves? I would have loved to hear some original poetry or inspiring new words.

Sep. 12 2011 10:13 AM
clark from nj

I avoid the day. I listened to Radio Classics on my Sirius all day yesterday and read a book. I can't listen or watch any of it.
The prior week was hard to avoid too. With your programming, I had to review every part of the schedule so as not to listen to accounts of it.
I really don't want to relive the dark feelings I had on that day and everytime I think about it start crying all over again.
It's been ten years and sometimes it feels like no time has passed at all.

Yesterday, I passed a sign at an elementary school that said "Always remember 9/11". How can I forget when it's everywhere?

Sep. 12 2011 10:13 AM
Nigel from South of Canal St.


Enough 9/11 already. Stop. Please.

For those of us who live and have lived in lower Manhattan since prior to 9/11, wonder at what point does wallowing in 9/11 and exploiting it for politics and media swarming annually end?

Do we really need Rudi and W to be trotted out again and again?

Brian, please, next year just say No.

Sep. 12 2011 10:13 AM
Donna from NYC

You forgot building 7.

I am looking out my window last night and I see two lights and I am thinking what about building 7? Why doesn't anyone ever talk about that? The building collapsed and it was not hit by a plane - doesn't anyone in NY ever wonder why?

Sep. 12 2011 10:11 AM
Michael from Manhattan

I was appalled that Rudolph Giuliani selected a passage from the Bible — Ecclesiastes — which justifies murder, war and hatred. Our former mayor never fails to disgust me.

Sep. 12 2011 10:09 AM
Steve from NYC

I truly feel for those who have lost loved ones on 9/11, but can we please stop talking about it now?
It's September 12, let's move on until next year.

Sep. 12 2011 10:09 AM

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