SEPTEMBER 10 AMERICANS

Lawrence Kaplan produces a stunning bit of data from some recent polls:

Fear of terrorism cuts across all demographic sub-groups. Yet a willingness to do something about it, to adjust our priorities, does not. The latest Pew survey, which asked respondents whether the president should focus on the war on terror or on the economy, reveals a puzzling trend.

Evangelical Christians, whites, residents of rural areas, southerners, and self-described conservatives evince more concern about the response to September 11 than do secular Americans, African Americans, residents of cities, non-southerners, or self-described liberals. In fact, the very city dwellers most at risk tend to attach the least importance to the war on terror. If these results seem more suited to a gun-control survey, consider another way of reading the same data. A Newsweek poll in November 2002 found that respondents who cited terrorism as the nation’s foremost priority voted Republican by a margin of three-to-one. In a similar vein, the Pew survey finds that Republicans split evenly on the question of the war on terror versus the economy, while only 18% of Democrats profess more concern with terrorism.

It hardly comes as a surprise, but the emergence of a partisan gap on a matter that supposedly transcends politics has come awfully quickly. All the more so, because one of the most popular analogies generated by the September 11 industry likened the new unity of purpose to that which prevailed after Pearl Harbor.

If you really wish to know what someone thinks about the war on terror, however, that person’s opinions about Monica Lewinsky and the Florida recount offer a more reliable guide. Were the cause something other than self-preservation, these cleavages might not mean so much. But when a global war becomes the exclusive property of one political party–and is treated, increasingly, as a touch-me-not by the other party–the whole enterprise risks forfeiting its legitimacy.

Yet the existence of a partisan divide between the two Americas isn’t nearly so important as the preferences that divide them.

When September 11 Americans look back at the attacks, they see an event that requires an overhaul of national priorities. When September 10 Americans look back at the attacks, they see an event whose significance is emotional, even spiritual, but most of all historical. What they do not see is the opening salvo of a years-long struggle, much less its implications for politics and policy.

Wow.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JohnC says:

    Yep.

  2. Kathy K says:

    Too true.

  3. Gunther says:

    When September 11 Americans look back at the attacks, they see an event that requires an overhaul of national priorities. When September 10 Americans look back at the attacks, they see an event whose significance is emotional, even spiritual, but most of all historical. What they do not see is the opening salvo of a years-long struggle, much less its implications for politics and policy.

    For this disconnect between sorrow and action, some have blamed the media’s gaudy sentimentality.

    This disconnect is hardly surprising, if you have been paying even minimal attention to the public debate that occurred in the blogosphere and elsewhere over the past year and a half, and even further back in time, to the sharp divisions that characterized voter preferences in the 2000 election. The demographic characteristics that distinguished those who voted for Bush and those who voted against him (i.e., the so-called red-versus-blue states) seem to mirror very closely those that separate “September 11” Americans and “September 10” Americans. That is, urban vs. rural, Christian vs. secular, white vs. black, southern vs. nonsouthern.

    However I don’t agree with the tone of the article, which seems to imply that September 10th Americans don’t “get it” and are somehow in a state of denial about the events of September 11th and it’s consequences. The disconnect isn’t between really between sorrow and action as the only options. The issues is what actions are appropriate. The people Kaplan calls “September 10th” Americans aren’t “oblivious” to the war on terror just because they don’t trust the way it has been sold to them.

    We are all September 11th Americans now. However, some truly believe, as the article states, that this war on terror is indeed “the opening salvo of a years-long struggle”, but more critically, trust the course of action that the current administration is taking. Others, on the other hand, may be fully cognizant of the need to eliminate the forces behind the attacks, but believe that the so-called “war on terror” has been hijacked by ideologues and used as an excuse to push an agenda that has nothing to do with the original attacks. It’s not surprising that people who believe the former as opposed to the latter should break down, roughly, into those who like or don’t like this President.

  4. JohnC says:

    BTW, my “Yep” was not agreement with the article.

  5. bryan says:

    Yes, I found this very thing interesting at my small school in rural s.c. Immediately after 9/11, students said they didn’t feel safe, and yet the remote area where this college is located would be the LAST place terrorists would attack (okay, the last place would be somewhere in West Texas, but the second to last place). And they were also very concerned that we do something to strike back.

  6. Biff says:

    So before we won in Afghanistan, the major battle against the specific terrorists who attacked us, liberals feared terrorism more than anything. Now they don’t fear it as much. How is this irrational?

    And anyway the heart of Kaplan’s argument:

    Fear of terrorism cuts across all demographic sub-groups. Yet a willingness to do something about it, to adjust our priorities, does not.

    is really just a rehash of the puerile argument that opposition to any of the specific tactics employed in the war on terror is equivalent to complete surrender, wanting to “do nothing.”

  7. JohnC says:

    Yep.

  8. markus says:

    just what Biff said. Kaplan’s trying to say “ignorant” or “un-patriotic” by spinning the results so it looks like people describe themselves that way in the polls.
    How about this take, based on the premise that Bush is incompetent (as opposed to Kaplan’s unstated premise that the WoT is proceeding according to plan).
    Liberals want Bush to focus on the economy because they know he can’t really control that so the damage will be less severe.
    Or better still:
    The poll results are in good keeping with the loss of interest in sane fiscal policy among Republicans.

    Seriously, if even I can produce similar crap, why is Kaplan taken seriously?

  9. JohnC says:

    Because he’s part of the cult of the critical parent.

    The just lap it up like a cat drinking out of a toilet.