Bob Franken

9/11. How Far We’ve Come. Down

The biggest impediment to my covering 9/11 from near the Pentagon crash site was the wireless phone service. There was almost none, which made reporting this national tragedy way more frantic than it should have been. We got there quickly enough, but anxious viewers had to wait far too long while we struggled with a technical near-meltdown that frustrated any attempt to get out this historic, nightmarish news.

Even worse, vital transmissions between the various police and other emergency first responders were often sporadic, due to disorganized radio and mobile network, overwhelmed to the point coordination was often non-existent.

It’s fair to say that telecommunications have improved since then, although way less than they should have. It’s also fair to say that, in so many other ways, our country has deteriorated since the nation was so tragically united both by patriotism and fear in the rubble of the attacks eight years ago.

Who will forget when the members of Congress stood on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America” as a symbol of unity and support for the President of the United States.

Compare that to the spectacle on Wednesday night inside the Capitol when a Congressman shouts “You lie” as the President speaks about health care.

This was a different President, to be sure, and a different time. But it was just eight short years after the September 11th attacks. In the small span, the country’s “all for one, one for all” resolve has been shredded by a “what’s in it for me” mind set that has left our national fabric in tatters.

Fed, perhaps, by the excesses of the heavy handed response to 9/11, including the torture, the unnecessarily intrusive laws and security measures, the deadly and incompetent Iraq misadventure and all the other manipulations by the political opportunists, the nation has become a hotbed of cynicism. Reason and high purpose are overwhelmed by those who serve their own low ambitions by bringing the frightened and misinformed to a frenzy.

Something as obvious as the need for health care reform is rolled over by what President Obama described in his address as “…the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government.”

How sad it is that this “disdain” causes us to expect the worst from our leaders because they so often deliver it. Sadder still is how it leads us to a scorn so deep that we flat out reject the possibility of any positive change.

The nation is nearly paralyzed by the operators the frustrated President described as those who “score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge.”

So the question is far more basic than whether one side or the other has the best approach to health care. It is whether are capable of agreeing at all or whether we are now hopelessly stuck in division, more often than not, created and exploited by the ones who profit from them.

Maybe, in this day of memorials the best one would be a return to the fleeting resolve to all be in this together. For that we will once again have to turn our backs on the hate and fear that make any sort of communication with each other impossible.

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