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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


In some respects, September 11, 2001 seems like far more than five years ago. It’s hard to remember what it was like to go through airport security before then. And for those of us in politics, it’s even harder to recall a time when national security was an entirely subordinate issue, much less when Republicans were calling for “humility” in foreign policy, and suggesting Democrats were too prone to support military actions remote from direct threats to the United States. But at the same time, we all remember that day with extraordinary clarity. I was at work in Washington, and a colleague called me into his office to watch reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Right after I started watching, the second plane hit, and I knew, like everyone else at that moment, what that meant. Almost immediately, it seemed, another colleague called in to say she was sitting in traffic on I-395 and saw an airliner crash into the Pentagon (thinking–erroneously, it turned out–that her husband was in the Pentagon for a meeting, she was understandably beside herself). And then within a minute or two, we could all see the smoke rising on the horizon from the direction of Northern Virginia. Following some odd impulse, a friend and I went down to the street (Pennsylvania Ave. SE) and stood there just watching the Capitol building, half-expecting it to explode any minute. We finally snapped out of it when the sidewalks filled with congressional staffers who had just been evacuated. I didn’t lose any friends or family members on 9/11, and it’s just one of the traumatic national incidents burned permanently into my memory (others being the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK; the Challenger explosion; Hurricane Katrina; and, as a political junkie, the horror of the Florida recount in 2000). Life more or less returned to normal in New York and Washington within months of the tragedy, and in D.C. we no longer awaken each morning immediately aware of the drone of circling aircraft patrols. But because we are still as a nation grappling with how to respond to 9/11, and to place it in some proper historical context, this particular memory burns bright today, and Lord only knows when it will ever fade from our nightmares, or fail to arouse anger and tears.

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