Sept. 11: The Non-Existent Albatross

Bernard Kerik, former NY police commissioner (who was on-duty on Sept. 11), has withdrawn his nomination for Director of Homeland Security. The stated reason was that he had ‘nanny issues’; is there any career couple or single parent who ‘outsources’ a significant part of childraising and/or housecleaning who wouldn’t have this problem? (In other words, let’s get serious about illegal immigration).

There also were conflict-of-interest allegations surrounding Kerik, which might have derailed his nomination, if he had not had nanny issues. What bothers me is that it appeared, at least from the glowing news coverage, that Sept. 11 wouldn’t been seen as a detriment. I don’t blame Kerik for screwing up the terrorist watch list, or allowing people with box cutters on planes, or not taking the threat seriously (I blame Bush for this–more about this later).

What I do blame Kerik for is that many police officers and firemen died because of inadequate communications (both chain-of-command and equipment). This happened on his watch, and he hasn’t even pulled a Janet Reno (claiming to take responsibility, even though there are no real consequences for doing so). How is Sept. 11 not an albatross around this man’s neck?

Everyone has treated Sept. 11 as if it were a giant tornado about which nothing could be done. Bush has benefited (and encouraged) this notion, so he does not have to take responsibility. It appears that as long as you stand on a pile of rubble with a heartbreaking patriotic backdrop, the reality of failure doesn’t matter. So what if everything you did, from focusing on the wrong threat, to not taking Osama bin Laden as seriously as Ken Lay resulted in a massive loss of life. Pretend to be a tough guy, play up your story of personal salvation and hardship, and wrap yourself in the flag. It boggles that mind that Sept. 11 is not associated with utter failure–and I blame the Democrats, in part, for not pointing this out. (An aside: has it ever occurred to anyone that Bush, a recovering alcoholic and Kerik, who has not had the best personal life to put it mildly, are ‘broken people’–at least more so than most. I wish them well, but could we find someone with a slightly more solid background to run things).

Contrast this lack of responsibility to the Dutch cabinet which resigned after Dutch troops failed to prevent the massacre of several thousand Bosnians. Could you imagine Bush (or Clinton) doing that? What ever else you might say about Kerry (and I’m going to say a lot next), I think he would have considered resignation after Sept. 11 (or not running for a second term). The fundamental problem with Kerry (among many) is that he was ‘sorta-pro-war.’ In retrospect, Kerry was unable to run hard against Bush on foreign policy and security because of his pro-war stance, when fundamentally he needed to attack Bush’s personal integrity and judgement. Kerry couldn’t say, “Bush has made mistake after mistake. Not only is that bad, but he’s never even owned up to it”–after all, Kerry helped enable that mistake.

Overall, no one associated with Sept. 11 has taken much blame in the popular culture (Rice, Rumsfeld, Mineta, Bush, and Cheney still have their jobs). It’s like Auden wrote in A Christmas Oratio:

Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish. Every corner-boy will congratulate himself: ‘I’m such a sinner that God had to come down in person to save me. I must be a devil of a fellow.’ Every crook will argue: ‘I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged.’

Especially if you’re named Bush.

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