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On “Politicizing” 9/11

I have refrained from writing anything on 9/11.  Mostly I have not felt like I had a lot that was sufficiently original to contribute and/or various thoughts that I have are insufficiently developed at the moment.

However, one thing that struck me in reading the comment thread on Doug Mataconis’ post on Paul Krugman’s 9/11 comment was the accusation in a couple of comments that people were “politicizing” 9/11.

The thing that strikes me about that is that 9/11 is an event that is likely impossible to discuss without politicizing it to one degree or another.  The event itself was inherently political and, more importantly for discussions of the event, any discussion of US reaction to 9/11 is inherently political.

What one thinks of Bush, Giuliani, “enhanced interrogations,”* the USA-PATRIOT Act, Afghanistan, Iraq, the TSA, and any number of other topics are all deeply political and divisive.  As such accusing someone of “politicizing” a discussion of 9/11 is like accusing someone of “athleticizing” a discussion of football.

It is also a highly emotional topic.

Indeed, the combination of the politics of the event (and the response thereto) coupled with the emotional nature of the discussion has been what has kept me from wanting to comment.

*And, indeed, using that word (as well as the decision to put it in quotation marks) are all part of the political nature of this discussion.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    It is true that 9/11 has been politicized for 10 years now, but that doesn’t mean the actual anniversary date is the best time for it. Or the best time to go whole hog.

    How much self-restraint does it really take to wait a few days? To let today be about the victims, the responders (official and ad hoc) and their families?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  2. @john personna: On the one hand, I agree with the sentiment (which is part of why I haven’t written anything besides this post), but on the other, my point is that whatever one comments upon is inherently political (even a choice to focus on victims more than first responders, or whatever). The whole thing is soaked in the political.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. Andy says:

    Steven,

    That’s a pretty broad brush. There is, I think a big difference between comments that are a clear attack against one’s political enemies as opposed to comments that honor the dead, reflect on the past or look to the future. Technically you are right that they are all “political” but they are substantively very, very different.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. ponce says:

    There’s “good” politicizing and “bad” politicizing.

    I don’t think anyone would be offended by a calm, rational discussion of the political legacy of 9/11.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  5. MSS says:

    I guess the reason I have avoided it (to the point of even mostly staying away from baseball today, which is a sacrifice) is that I will always feel it did not have to be politicized, and that those in power in the US at the time chose to make it a wedge issue.

    So much of what distresses me about this country is tied up in that day and its aftermath. Not the immediate aftermath, where ordinary people reacted in a truly inspiring and pride-inducing way. But… well, enough said…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. @Andy: I think that any statement beyond a solemn remembrance of lives lost is likely to informed by a political position. Indeed, it is my observation choices about how one engages in the remembrance runs the risk of politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Gustopher says:

    Using 9/11 to discuss the effects of the US response to the attacks is perfectly reasonable, responsible and appropriate. And, most of that will be viewed through a political framework.

    Reflecting on our actions is right and proper. The costs we have paid with our liberties for a bit more security, the invasion of Iraq, the fact that the terrorists attacked the biggest symbol of capitalism in the most multicultural city in America, 100,000 dead Arabs, the fact that more people kill themselves each year than al Quaeda killed in 2001, all of this is a proper and respectful topic today.

    I may not agree with what the right wing says about most of those topics, but I don’t think it is politicizing 9/11 crassly to discuss them.

    Using 9/11 as an excuse to complain about taxes, like Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project a few years ago — well, those people deserve to be dragged out back and beaten to within an inch of their filthy little lives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  8. @ponce:

    There’s “good” politicizing and “bad” politicizing.

    And, no doubt, the “politcizing” is in the eye of the politicizer.

    My point is that the discussion is inherently political, so accusing someone else of politicizing strikes me as redundant at best.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. anjin-san says:

    I don’t see any problem with a political discussion on this day, even a spirited one. The pain of 9.11 is something all of us will carry around the rest of our lives. It’s not something we have filed away forgotten somewhere, and we have to remember to bring it out and memorialize it once a year. We all live with it, and my personal experience is that it has never been too far in the background of my consciousness, even 10 years out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    The event itself was inherently political and, more importantly for discussions of the event, any discussion of US reaction to 9/11 is inherently political.

    Absolutely correct. In fact terrorism and war of any kind are always political both in nature and intent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. ponce says:

    My point is that the discussion is inherently political

    I’m curious about how things would have turned out if 9/11 never happened.

    I imagine Bush would have been a perfectly decent president…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  12. Andy says:

    I mentioned it in the other thread, but compare Krugman to Safranski. If you read between the lines they are similar in many ways, but the difference is tone is pretty stark.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  13. Wayne says:

    Andy makes a good point.

    Also the sword should cut both ways. If it is fair game for one side to attack the other side or promotes their side regardless of the event, then turn around is fair game. Funerals, special events, Martin Luther King Day, Dec 7, 911, weddings, shootings, etc are all open game. So much for the call for civility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. ponce says:

    Funerals, special events, Martin Luther King Day, Dec 7, 911, weddings, shootings, etc are all open game.

    Where have you been?

    America already has Christian fanatics who protest funerals for U.S. service members.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  15. Trumwill says:

    I think you can remember the fallen and celebrate the heroes without getting political. Anything beyond that is pretty tough. But on days of unity, I don’t think it’s necessary to go beyond that. We can wait a week.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Dammit SJT, can’t we have one day to argue about the dead without you politicizing the politicization of 9/11?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. WR says:

    I’m actually much less troubled by the politicization of what was, after all, a political act than I am with its sentimentalization. I’m so tired of seeing people whose opinion on human suffering amounts to “screw them — they deserve to die without health insurance or unemployment or Social Security or decent paychecks or retirement funds because they’re parasites and I’m a creator” — suddenly turn around and start rending their garments over the great suffering they feel for this particular (and small) set of victims.

    These mawkish displays have nothing to do with empathy for the dead and their survivors — it’s all about showing how sensitive they are as long as someone has the decency to die in the approved manner. Learn to respect humanity, and I’ll take you seriously on 9/11. Until then, spare of the displays of your deep feeling, because we know just how deep it goes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  18. anjin-san says:

    But on days of unity

    I’m sorry, but I think the concept of a “day of unity” is a joke. We are not unified as a nation, we are bitterly divided. Now we can decide that we are tired of division, and that we need to do the difficult work of achieving actual unity, or we can have an essentially hollow feel good exercise and pretend, for a day, to be united. Of course we can also continue to go down the road we are currently on. I don’t think it will lead us to a place we want to be, but it is certainly the path of least resistance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  19. Ron Beasley says:

    Jingoism is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy. In practice, it is a country’s advocation of the use of threats or actual force against other countries in order to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests. Colloquially, it refers to excessive bias in judging one’s own country as superior to others – an extreme type of nationalism.

    That’s mostly what I saw on the TV box today. There was some memorials to those who died and some memorials to those who sacrificed all to save others. But lots of generals and arm chair generals trying to explain why we must continue the forever war. I watched Rumsfeld, Cheney and some Generals on Faux news. If Eisenhower were still alive he would have thrown up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  20. Ron Beasley says:

    @anjin-san: So true – the Republican base is still fighting the Civil War.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  21. Drew says:

    “It is true that 9/11 has been politicized for 10 years now, but that doesn’t mean the actual anniversary date is the best time for it. Or the best time to go whole hog.

    How much self-restraint does it really take to wait a few days? To let today be about the victims, the responders (official and ad hoc) and their families?”

    Correct, jp. Thank you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  22. john personna says:

    @anjin-san:

    It might be a tad conflicted to call a “day of unity” a joke, and to then call for an end of division …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  23. G.A.Phillips says:

    America already has Christian fanatics who protest funerals for U.S. service members.

    Good Golly….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Lit3Bolt says:

    @WR:

    I completely agree. I couldn’t bear to watch the ceremonial rending of garments today because it is and was so ceremonial and artificial. All over facebook and over the internet I see people taking time to remember how 9-11 affected them and thus dive further into their smug, self-righteous, self-absorbed lives. Apparently it’s unifying for the nation to wallow in national narcissism and to belch patriotic lies to each other about how special and touching this event was to our lives.

    When you think about it, on 9-11-2001 four plane crashes happened, with casualties on the ground. These actions were caused by criminals who died in the crashes. But living in fear and being whipped up into a pro-war anti-Muslim hysteria by government propaganda? That was our choice. That was the tragedy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  25. Trumwill says:

    That was the tragedy.

    Maybe I am a wallowing narcissist, but I do consider over 2,900 deaths to be tragic to be tragic in its own right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Drew:

    How much self-restraint does it really take to wait a few days? To let today be about the victims, the responders (official and ad hoc) and their families?”

    This from the aspiring Galt who has never given the slightest indication he gives a rat’s ass about anyone but himself, whose politics begin and end with his bank account, and who expresses himself almost exclusively in terms of contempt for everyone who is not Drew.

    It’s laughable. As if I suddenly started expressing reverence for the baby Jesus at Christmas.

    Fraud.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  27. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Trumwill:

    I’m thinking of the classical definition of tragedy, but sure, any day when a lot of people die is tragic. In fact, 9-11 was so tragic we had to share it with Iraq.

    I guess Hurricane Katrina was tragic too. You remember solemnly remembering all of those who died from Hurricane Katrina, right? And all the calls for national unity on that day?

    9-11 was the event, the adverse circumstance, a sudden shocking instance of suffering. How we reacted to 9-11 afterwards is the tragic flaw. It has poisoned my memories of the event itself.

    I think about the horror the victims of 9-11 must have gone through, but I think the greater horror is that their deaths still affect every American life today. That was what the terrorist criminals wanted. Even knowing it, we still went through with our response to 9-11. And that’s tragic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  28. Ben Wolf says:

    @Trumwill: A tragedy occurs when one is done in by their own faults, not when one is simply a victim.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  29. Trumwill says:

    Ben, depends on which definition one is using.

    Lit3, ahh, okay. If you’re talking about “tragic” in the literary sense, I get what you’re saying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Ernieyeball says:

    @Ron Beasley: “…TV box…” How quaint. More like obsolete and irrelevant in the era of flat screen LED.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. anjin-san says:

    Eisenhower

    Would that we had a man of his stature amongst us today. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. WR says:

    @michael reynolds: Let’s not forget that these right wingers who are so solemnly lecturing us on how to properly appreciate the heroes of 9/11 were just a few months ago supporting the Republican efforts to kill the bill funding medical care for these very heroes.

    Yes, today “we’re all Americans.” When it came to paying to treat the hideous illnesses that have followed in the wake of these people’s service to the country, the Rs told us that they’re union members, and their unions should pay the health costs. Or that they’re New Yorkers, so New York should pick up the tab.

    Yeah, we’re all Americans, unless it costs a right winger a nickel. Then they’re just another bunch of parasites.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  33. anjin-san says:

    just a few months ago supporting the Republican efforts to kill the bill funding medical care for these very heroes.

    For that matter, lets not forget the Bush administration & Giuliani telling 9.11 site workers that it was safe to work there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  34. Drew says:

    “This from the aspiring Galt who has never given the slightest indication he gives a rat’s ass about anyone but himself, whose politics begin and end with his bank account, and who expresses himself almost exclusively in terms of contempt for everyone who is not Drew.

    It’s laughable. As if I suddenly started expressing reverence for the baby Jesus at Christmas.

    Fraud.”

    Everything allright in the critics section??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0