Remember. Then Vote.
Part three of three
There are so many reasons to vote Anyone But Bush Again. From abortion to war and everything in between — and I hate to sound like a party shill, but it is so true — W really does mean “Wrong.” Though I am proud to be able to support a candidate like John F. Kerry, I would be fighting hard for the Democrat, whether we had Dennis Kucinich or Joe Lieberman.
(Well, okay, if Lieberman had been the nominee, it would be tough to put my all into the campaign. Fortunately, that is not the case.)
Still, for all of the many, varied examples of this administration’s corruption, incompetence and evil — the best of the recent examples being Ron Suskind’s devastating, widely-blogged takedown of their delusion-based community — the one story that remains central to me is, by almost unanimous agreement, the defining moment of this administration: the tragic attacks perpetrated on America on September 11, 2001. For the Bushistas, those attacks have made a hero out of their front man. In their story, the wastrel Prince Hal became the mighty Henry V, his imperious resolve uniting and strengthening America. The United States will triumph because George W. Bush says so. By his will, so it is done.
As you might imagine, I have a different perspective.
I was born in New York City. Though my family moved out during early childhood and I only returned to visit, I will be a New Yorker to my dying day. My father spent my youth working on Wall Street. I grew up with dirty-water hot dogs and honest-to-Italy New York pizza. Even now, I am so devout a Yankees fan I “bleed pinstripe blue.” (And I’ve been bleeding quite a few pinstripes lately, believe me.)
On that hellish Tuesday, I was awakened by a call from a friend back East telling us about the attack. I rushed to the television — it was, of course, on nearly every channel — and craned my neck back and forth at the impossibility before me. I could only see one of the Twin Towers through the smoke; the other, I was certain, was obscured behind its sibling and the cloud.
I was mistaken. It had already fallen. I alternated between staring in horror and pacing frantically, tears streaming down my face intermittently. Footage of the second attack was replayed for those, like myself, who had come to the tragedy late. The second Tower fell. It is the only day in my life that I simply did not go to work; I have called in sick before, but I was so stunned that I could not force myself to leave the set. Hours passed. New York vomited smoke as if Hell itself had torn from below to reveal itself to the surface world.
Then something extraordinary happened. With a desperate need to do something, anything, burning inside me, an announcer mentioned the coming need for blood donations. My wife and I knew immediately what to do, setting off for our local Blood Bank. The building was already standing room only, and volunteers were setting out instant tents for shade and providing snacks and drinks, all donated on the spot for the occasion. We gladly waited six hours to give blood, and the line stretched behind us well into the night. As horrible as the day had been, it was an amazing moment.
The growing division between Americans vanished overnight; Osama bin Laden, in his attempt to weaken our bickering nation, instead brought us together as completely as we have ever been and showed us a strength we thought we had lost. Bigotry and divisiveness were resoundingly rejected. As much as I grieved over the next several days, watching the wound in my city billow venom as if the attack had just occurred, it seemed as if the American response would almost be worth it. There was a tremendous surge in community spirit, in the desire to put aside our petty bickering and do great things. More amazingly, there was a growing feeling that those noble impulses had always been there and had only needed something to sweep away the detritus that had buried them.
I want you to think back. Remember that feeling. Remember what it was like in America in that moment. Remember how the world opened its arms to us. Feel it. Feel that moment, when the French were saying “we are all Americans” and embassies across the globe were overrun with flowers and candles. Feel the love that rose out of the pain and loss. Remember the power of that cusp, that turning point in history, when anything seemed possible…and feel it one more time.
Into this cusp, this turning point, came George W. Bush. The man who had lost the popular count by half a million votes, yet nominated right-wing fanatics like John Ashcroft as if he had an enormous mandate. “Dubya” was roundly despised by half the country as the chimp who would be king…until September 11th. Suddenly, the candidate who promised to be “a uniter, not a divider” was handed an unprecedented opportunity to heal a bitter division in America and close widening gaps with the world. All he would have had to do was say a few kind words, moderate his policies slightly, and respond to the globe’s outreach by simply reaching back. That is all it would have taken to guarantee reelection and a place of greatness in history.
Instead, he took the silver platter he was handed unity on, dumped the contents, forged the metal into a knife, and stabbed us all in the back.
The world needed sane policy — not even great leadership, just the chance to do what we all wanted to anyway — and instead we got Patriot Acts and Infinite Justice, “phantoms” of lost liberty and neo-imperial crusades, smug arrogance and with-us-or-against-us rhetoric. The Constitution was treated as an inconvenience that could at last be eliminated. Freedom became a salesman’s buzzword for pitching wars of convenience while the administration warned Americans to “watch what they say, watch what they do.” (A less famous addendum is “This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.”) Torture became a valid tool and the government claimed (and used) the “right” to incarcerate American citizens indefinitely without trial.
Instead of using the opportunity to heal America and bring us together as a nation, the presidential uniter took a sword to the heart of the country and forced the gap as wide as it would spread. Using Iraq and Homeland Security as bludgeons, despicably morphing a triple-amputee into bin Laden, and generally politicizing the attacks as far as they could, Bush and other Republican leaders managed to win a razor-thin majority in the Senate.
Then they increased partisan tensions by actually invading Iraq. Which had no nuclear capability…or biological or chemical weapons…or any marginally credible threat to America, for that matter. In fact, the only relation Hussein’s regime had to September 11th was the Bush administration’s constant fearmongering on the subject to win America’s backing of an invasion.
Indeed, fearmongering has become the central theme of the Bush presidency. Whether spreading fear of Canadian drugs (produced in America and checked to both American and Canadian tolerances), homosexuality as a “threat” to “traditional marriage,” or releasing another warning from Homeland Security when a threat to Bush’s reelection emerges, the nightmare of September 11th informs their style of governance and campaigning even when it does not actively drive it. No matter how bad reality is, they can concoct fear of something worse — which is all Rove can do at this point, given the miserable failure that is the Bush presidency.
This is what the vast, magical, healing unity of September 12th has come to. All that remains of the infinite potential of that time are its ruins…and a choice. This is the time we are given. All we have left to decide is what we will do with it.
Remember what America was like in the days following September 11th. Remember the awesome, unparalleled feeling that we could recapture the American Dream, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of that tragedy. Remember the trust America placed in its leaders to be part of that rising. Remember how absolutely they betrayed both trust and dream.
Then do something about it.
(/) Roland X
Kerry/Edwards 2004: Vote While You Still Can
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