Editors Note: As September 11th approaches, we are certain to hear the events of eleven years ago politicized. But, will it be to a lesser extent? The following is a post from Brandon Melendez on why our current election is overshadowing 9/11. -M.P.
Why November 2012 is overshadowing September 2001
By Brandon Melendez
This Tuesday is the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and while there was much ado about the 10th anniversary there has been very little buzz about the ceremony to be held to remember the victims of that tragedy this year. This is probably because the 2012 election and the highly polarized political state of the nation of overshadowed it; and while the many ripples and waves caused by September 11th are used as political tools and rhetoric it is important to remember that this polarization stems in a very real way from that attack—and the election that was held just before it.
While polling statistics are easily manipulated by the left and the right as to the percentage of individual votes and on the street sampling procedures we would all be well served in remembering that the popular vote doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans and the it is, indeed, the electoral college vote that determines the presidency. It is a lesson we all learned back in 2000, and many would not put down from the moment of that infamous Supreme Court ruling, through September 11th, and reasonably until the 2004 election. With that in mind, neither President Obama or Governor Romney has enough projected electoral college votes to win the presidency (though the President does have a lead of roughly 30 votes).
So as we roll towards that “Day of Service” to our nation known as September 11th, I thought we might want to take a look at some of the big ideas rolling around in this, admittedly, very nasty presidential election cycle so that we can see why exactly for the first time in a decade September 11th isn’t getting the media lead-in it has in previous years.
A Semblance of Closure
With the confirmation of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden by Navy SEALS last year, the opening of the September 11th Memorial at Ground Zero, the withdrawal schedules from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the fact that the Freedom Tower—still under construction—is now the tallest building in Manhattan it may be safe to say that the festering physical wound of September 11th, 2001 is finally beginning to scab. Lower Manhattan is slowly being rehabilitated after years of interference, arguing, debate, and legal issues and while not everyone happy with the end result, the corporeal part of the attack’s ramifications seem to be coming to a close. With troops coming home and towers being raised we can at least start to see an end to the direct conflicts that arose from the attack—and while we are still active militarily in other theaters internationally it is safe to say that the American people do see Afghanistan and Iraq as direct results of September 11th.
A House Divided Cannot Stand
Of course, we aren’t quite as embattled as we were during the Civil War but the political divisions in our country are deep and, some would have you believe, wide. While the President has asserted that there is not a divided United States—no red states or blue states, no conservative America or liberal America, and so on—the fact remains that there are. There are traditionally liberal states, and conservative ones as well. There are also multiple facets to the American Experience, there is a Black Experience in a America, a White Experience, a Latino Experience, A Jewish Experience, an Asian Experience, a Muslim Experience, an Immigrant Experience, and indeed a General Experience as well. Not to mention the fact that there is a male and female and a straight and gay experience, and multiple levels of economic experiences. This however is the heart of the American Experiment. American democracy is supposed to thrive on the different perspectives and experiences in the country coming together via representative leadership to forge through commitment and debate and compromise to find the best possible solution to help drive the republic. Unfortunately the sound-bite era of political rhetoric has taken us so far beyond debate and compromise that campaign promises of “reaching across the aisle” seem promising and fresh rather than expected and routine. The parties themselves stand unceremoniously and overtly prompting ways that they will actually block the opposing party’s agenda as opposed to discussing and finding the best middle road. This leads to a political climate that is dangerously polarized and drives people to rage against differing opinions rather than fostering a true democratic environment that allows for discussion. In terms of an election cycle—especially a presidential one—this can, and has, led to a campaign that is bitter, petty, nasty, and vicious which makes for a juicier story in the media than the yearly widows, name reading, and wreath laying.
A Dirty Fight
The tone of this election has hit a high point in the increasingly negative and spiteful style of campaigning that has been developing in recent years. While its fairly routine to highlight the failures of an opponent or their shortcomings in office while either glossing over one’s own or drawing attention to a particular set of accomplishments the overall tone with which this is achieved has become incredibly sophomoric on both sides of the aisle. With the advent of SuperPACs and the ostensible loss of control of many of pro-candidate (or anti-candidate) ads we see are more the vitriol and venom coming from supporters than from the candidates themselves. However, this is rooted in the exponential growth of the tone set, very seriously, in the 2004 election with a very anti-Bush movement declaring the President-at-that-time a Nazi and a fascist. This kind of adversarial tone towards one’s opponent was carried over into the 2008 Primaries for the Democrats and the Republicans. Memorably, the tone between now-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and now-President Barack Obama became nasty to such a degree that many thought that the Democrats had dug their own grave (until Sarah Palin claimed she read all the newspapers). This tone carried over to the lengthy in-fighting and name calling among the Republican candidates for the nomination in the 2012 Primary Season, which has created a fractured sense of the Republican party (one they have attempted to bridge with the V.P. nomination of Representative Paul Ryan). This has also been fostered by the constituents of both parties in their attempt to undermine the candidates validity of candidacy rather than opposing the nature of their platforms; for example asking for proof of Mr. Obama’s natural U.S. birth though it was certified many times over before he did eventually release his birth certificate—and then contesting it again as fraudulent—or requiring Mr. Romney’s tax returns rather than attacking his ideas. This again is very entertaining to watch, like a train wreck, and for this reason people are enticed by the ongoing drama and soap opera of the he-said-she-said-bullshit of the election over remembering the victims of 9/11.
People are generally hurting all around, and those that aren’t feeling the brunt of the economic times we now live in are scared that G-Men are going to come to their doors with IRS badges and Tommy Guns demanding they pay their “fair share”. The middle class has become polarized forming a starker contrast in what was once a smooth gradient from working class to affluent. In conjunction with the still shaky real estate and housing market and the anemic job growth numbers all Americans, despite their bank account statements, fear what happens next in our economy. Even though this gap is not as wide as we are led to believe—as both parties are not championing the return to a WPA style government works program (though many of us were led to believe that in 2008 by the “shovel ready” rhetoric that the President bandied about)—we still have differing perspectives on how to go about fixing, or fostering healing, to our once mighty economy. Young professionals are also living in a state of fear as they thought their college and graduate school loans would be manageable regardless of the interest rate they were taken at because they would be able to find good jobs that would allow them decent standards of living while allowing them to pay back, in many cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. While the Federal Government has allowed many programs for consolidation and forgiveness of these debts the interest accrued in deferment hasn’t changed at all. Furthermore, while the stimulus packages of the Obama Administration have, according to Republicans, not amounted to much nobody has seriously considered using stimulus aid to relieve student loans to allow for young professionals to buy homes at low interest rates—far lower than those of their school debt. The in-campaign banter than becomes a battle between business savvy Millionaire Romney and Professor Obama—with the general critique being that Obama has never held a private sector job and therefore could not be expected to create a properly balanced or managed budget (an argument that has largely disappeared once the nomination of Representative Ryan was confirmed, whose budget pan is the road map of conservative austerity, but whose private sector resume is essentially non-existent). This has created a variety of rifts among voters along lines that are not only blue and red but also age and profession. With so many people worrying about their food, lights, and heat with the coming winter there is very room left in their hearts to mourn anything other than their job prospects.
I can hardly expect to outline all of the reasons that 9/11 has been overshadowed by the State of the Union, however these are some of the big ones. Without a doubt, the gravity of the present should take some precedence over the finally healing wounds of the past, but we would do well to remember that all of these distractions inherent in this election cycle are, in fact, direct ramifications of the September 11th attack. While the physical wounds are starting to mend, the psychological trauma experienced by our nation—still young and only now feeling truly vulnerable—are fresh and their real effect have yet to come to bear because the children born in a post-9/11 world have not yet taken the reigns of the country., nor have many of the enlisted man and women who have served in the conflicts that were deemed proper in the days and years following 2001. All in, we’ve made promises to Never Forget, and as such I have no doubt that there will be a ceremony and a televised circus, as well as moments of silence held on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I feel that all this will be tainted by politics and opportunity—bastardizing the memory of people who were killed for simply living their lives, going to work, or getting on a plane. As overshadowed as the date is, we would do well to remember that we are (to paraphrase Art Spiegelman) we are still standing in the shadow of no towers.