Monday, November 19, 2012

9-11: The Source of the Crisis

November 6th, I was at the Manhattan Beach Marriott Hotel on Rosecrans Blvd.

I wanted to get the election results as soon as I could, for the national as well as the local race, including the contest for the 33rd Congressional District.

Bloomfield arrived about half and hour after me. Scattered applause gave way to his ascendancy to the podium in the grand ballroom. Supporters throughout the Santa Monica Bay grew grim as the Obama campaign gained one battleground state after another. As soon as he took Ohio, the race for all intensive purposes was called for good.

I was not sad, or happy about the race. It makes no difference who sits in the White House of the statehouse, because no matter who is in charge, the peace in my house cannot be disturbed.

Still, Bloomfield looked ready to take down Henry Waxman. He shared with his supporters in the crowd that Henry Waxman had just joined "No Labels". He recounted the relief and the gratitude of constituents throughout the Santa Monica Bay who finally got to confront the Congressman about local issues, matters which the Congressman could ignore without any repercussions.

While visiting with some of the guests in the forum, I ran into Zein Obagi, the conservative Democrat who ran as one of eighth contenders in the primary. He took a stand on settling the immense debt, but he was "progressive" on social issues.

"Progressive" on social issues -- this trope surfaced again in the course of our conversation: "The Republican Party has got to get more progressive on social issues if they want to remain competitive."

Liberals tend to label their opponents, it would seem. Yet what exactly is "progressive" about different social views? The very notion is condescending and elitist, having nothing to do with the tradition of individual liberty in this country.

While discussing the growing economic and foreign policy crises afflicting this country from within and all around, I could not resist asking the simple question:

"What caused all of this to happen?" By "all of this", I am referring to market distortions, great recessions, housing crises, military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, a debt problem which is getting more indebted, inflation, and the European crisis.

Obagi answered very simply and wisely: "9-11"

That assessment makes a lot of sense. I remember the Director of Economic Development in San Pedro commenting how easy credit and easy money after the terrorist attacks just generated an economic bubble, which then collapsed in late 2008.

The United States has a confused paramilitary community, with the FBI and the CIA not talking too each other. The secure 1990's, defined by President Clinton's Oval Office infidelities as the greatest domestic crisis, distracted people from the ethnic skirmishes in Bosnia and the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in Africa.

The complacency of rising markets, companies call came to a jarring halt with the two-place terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. These planes had changed course deliberately, yet air traffic control did nothing for the fifty minutes as the planes headed toward New York.

These unprecedented and unforeseen attacks shook everybody. This nation was not as safe as we had assumed. George W. Bush had been sworn in only nine months ago, and still resentment abounded among pundits and leftists that Bush had stolen the election. This waning electorate is still whining about the Florida recount. The disputed leadership, the discredited allocation of votes, and then 9-11. A latent element of fear seemed manifest in this country.

How did our leaders interpret this attack? They viewed the event as an attempt to stifle the American Dream of Peace and Prosperity. In reaction to the closed markets and the massive sell-off following the attack, the federal government pushed in easy credit. For the next five years, the Bush Administration would advance a policy in which every American could own their own home. A home speaks of security and legacy, and both were attacked on September 11. The government wanted to allay fears and stifle any future shocks to this country's identity.

Bush's domestic policy would provide ample credit to buy and buy some more to assuage any fears. Next, the foreign threat needed to be neutralized. A nation that was left-sweeping then entered in to a phase of perpetual fighting, a hypervigilance which led our leaders to send troops first into Afghanistan, the graveyard of Empires, and then to go back to Iraq and finish what Operation Desert Storm had started. There is some support for the individual argument that Bush II wanted to finish what Bush I failed to finish: removing Saddam Hussein from power.

Bush II seemed outmatched and overwhelmed by the role of governing. As Governor of Texas, he spent less time persuading anyone to do anything, since he was on friendly territory, and the Texas Constitution all but marginalizes the governor in the place of the Lieutenant Governor, a legal maneuver from the Reconstruction Era of simmering Southern resentment, which frustrated the influence of federal rule. Now having to lead in earnest, he was just caught up and cut short.

Rather than responding to a culture of conscience of fear and security, Bush overreacted, seeking to send a message to his country and to the world that "You don't mess with us." His policies, sadly, have messed with us greatly. Two wars in the Middle East, with growing anti-American  sentiment and tribal rivalries tearing up the region, and the ongoing quagmire in Afghanistan have made us less safe, not more so.

The panic mode which has motivated the political class over the past decade reminds me of the fight-of-flight impulse which drives victims of serious trauma. Our bodies have a horrid tendency to condemn us over one trauma, so that every subsequent encounter triggers this impulse to tussle or take off. A stable identity in something stronger, greater, than ourselves, a commitment to a cultural polity which withstands our thoughts, our feelings, or the winds and waves of public opinion is called for. George W. Bush went with his gut, and the nation got punched in the gut with poor economic and foreign policies.

Brute, cowboy force was never the way to go, and Republicans and conservatives cringed with Big Government getting Bigger under George W. Bush. Two statist platforms in the 2004 election left the nation choosing four more years of the same: "How can 50, 000,000 be wrong?!" one British newspaper screamed in its headline. The people in this country saw perhaps a slighter better scenario in extending the administration of a President who "kept us safe".

But he didn't, nor could he ever have done so. Government cannot keep us safe, at least in ministering to us a spirit of security. This stability belongs to our views, our values, our faith. Ironically, faith in government reached a golden-calf status under Bush II, and Obama just added more metal to the idol.

Easy credit, world wars, the idealized foreign policy which claimed that our safety depended on the proliferation of "democracy" where tyranny reigned unchecked, all of this attempt to convey a veneer of  "Never again". Now we suffer with the plunging economy, the growing debt, and a foreign policy which impoverishes us and endangers us at the same time.

9-11 set the ball rolling, for voters and the political class, breaking forth a "justified expansion" of the state. Now the United States is learning that even force, even the state, has its limits, and needs care and protection as much as we had sought in the previous decade.

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