Odds are you’ve heard of Glenn Beck’s “9/12 Project” – founded on nine “values” and twelve “principles,” all meant to hearken back to the feeling of unity that the tragedies of 9/11/01 inspired in the American people.
Thing is, I remember 9/12/01 differently. Without a doubt, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the civilized world came together, as old prejudices dropped and erstwhile enemies united to embrace the wounded American people. Despite a continuous debate over whether Common Article 5 of the NATO treaty – which contains the obligation of mutual self defense – applied to terrorist attacks, or even applied to America, for that matter, NATO rallied around America, and pledged to hunt out and annihilate those cowardly enough to take innocent lives during peacetime. For the sake of your time and mine, let this one gesture speak for what was, indeed, a climate of instantaneous unity.
It was nothing short of remarkable. As surely as crises bring opportunity, the American people had gained, in tragedy, de facto leadership of a vast, near-invincible network of democracies, allied in outrage over the wound inflicted on their sovereign sister-nation. True global hegemony was within reach. Al-Qaeda, it seemed, had vastly underestimated the free world’s commitment to security, and in so doing, had forged the unity of purpose that would be its undoing. We had but to accept the world’s gracious aid, and take this one chance to bind the world in new covenants of friendship.
Only one man seemed to miss the significance of the event: President George W. Bush.
Well, that’s not fair. He understood enough to seize on his inflated popularity, the result of merely being in office when the towers fell (the “rally ’round the flag” effect), to push through a hyper-partisan agenda. He would gain through tragedy the mandate that eluded him at the poll booth. Suddenly, all his talk of being a “uniter, not a divider” seemed to be a “pre-9/11 mindset”: despite a compliant Congress, the Bush administration pursued, at all opportunities, the path of greatest resistance, in a desperate attempt to aggrandize the executive office and finally build a “Christian nation.” America’s chance for swift, united action, and a virtual end to partisanship, was gone. Bush could have been a transcendent president, the man who united the world in crisis; but because of his partisan blinders, he is, today, the man who laid low the American economy, and fanned the flames of the greatest partisan divide in recent memory. All of this was set in motion that fateful day, when President Bush chose the road more traveled by.
And yet, today, we hear that 9/12 was a triumph of conservative principles, when the nation rallied in unity, only to be unwound by contrarian liberals. Don’t believe it. On 9/11, we had a chance to unite not just our country, but the entire world. But by 9/12, it was already squandered.