The Politics of 9/11 Weekend

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?