But another thing I’ve learned politically concerns what I call followership. Before all these events, I was aware that the American public doesn’t pay that much attention to politics. It doesn’t have much knowledge; we don’t vote with the frequency that perhaps we should. But none of that seemed to matter. We managed to get along pretty well. Now, I think the single biggest thing I’ve learned from 9/11 and the reaction to it is how unbelievably hurt we have been by the fact that the American public does not know much about politics and doesn’t care that much. We are such a powerful country and such a great country, and yet so many people still think that there was a relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. That is just chilling. This war in Iraq has been such a disaster, and there is no accountability. The voters re-elected men who led the war — a major war of choice, starkly breaking with a couple hundred years of tradition. The president himself has never held the secretary of defense accountable, and if you don’t have accountability in a political system you get these festering sores that never go away. But ultimately the failure of the political system to hold leadership accountable is not attributable to the leadership. The people themselves aren’t demanding accountability. The leader can be changed, but I don’t know how you change the American people.
I still think that Americans have a strong moral sensibility, especially on big cultural issues. They never bought the Terry Schiavo business or the stem-cell business. But there’s a difference between a kind of moral outlook and a political willingness to engage politics, to become knowledgeable and active. And that sort of doubles the shame, that a moral people are allowing their leaders to get away with what they’ve gotten away with.
Wendy Kaminer, social critic, attorney, and journalist
September 11 didn’t affect me intellectually or ideologically so much as emotionally; it was an emotionally devastating event, and it didn’t change my mind so much as my attitude. In fact, my opinions about government and politics have mostly been confirmed by September 11. Unchecked, until recently, by Congress, the Courts, or the press, (not to mention a sense of reality), the administration has done a pretty good job of making us less free and a really bad job of making us more safe. The extraordinary damage done by the government worldwide, some of it irreversible, is mind-boggling.
So September 11 and the appalling inability of our government to respond intelligently to the threat of terrorism have left me with a heightened sense of despair, a belief that we’re living on borrowed time. I wonder if that belief is more widely shared than we know. On the surface, cultural and social life in America seem strangely unchanged by September 11, but I imagine that fear and even some hopelessness have a strong subliminal presence, for which people seem to be compensating in all kinds of ways.