Gov. Deval Patrick did a decent job yesterday of deflecting criticism over his 9/11 remarks. “Let me be clear: I don’t think America bears any fault for the attack on us in 9/11, and I don’t think that any of the family members with whom I spoke that day heard it or saw it that way,” he said on the “Eagan & Braude” show on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM). The Boston Globe covers the story here; the Associated Press here.
Lest you forget, here is the section of Patrick’s speech that brought him to grief:
Because among many other things, 9/11 was a failure of human understanding. It was mean and nasty and bitter attack on the United States. But it was also about the failure of human beings to understand each other, and to learn to love each other.
At the time, those words struck me as odd, and he obviously opened himself up to accusations that he was being insensitive to the victims of 9/11. But it’s an exercise in intellectual dishonesty to suggest that he really, actually meant to say that Al Qaeda wouldn’t have attacked us if only we had demonstrated love and understanding toward the terrorists. Naturally, the Massachusetts Republican Party and the usual suspects on talk radio nearly injured themselves from the speed with which they leapt to that conclusion.
The Phoenix’s David Bernstein digs deeply, and shows not just the context in which Patrick made his remarks on Tuesday, but on other occasions as well. Here, most tellingly, is a long excerpt from the commencement address Patrick gave this past May at Mount Wachusett Community College:
The events of September 11, 2001 were horrific, you know that. They disrupted individual families and our collective sense of security and well-being. It was a “wake-up” call to our own vulnerability. And it represents a catastrophic failure of human understanding. In its wake, I believe we have been governed by fear.
Fear is what drove us to round up people of Arab descent, many of them American citizens, and to hold hundreds without cause or charge.
Fear led us to lose focus on a known enemy in Afghanistan and invade Iraq instead.
Fear justified what I believe to be the greatest assault on personal freedoms (in the Patriot Act) and the greatest aggregation of Presidential power in much of our history.
Fear created the Guantánamo detention center, where the very rule of law that has made our democracy an envy of the world has been set aside.
Just a few months ago in a radio interview, a senior Pentagon official, Charles “Cully” Stimson, named some of the law firms providing free representation to the Guantánamo detainees and suggested that corporate America make those law firms — and I quote — “choose between representing terrorists and representing reputable firms.” He attempted to mark these lawyers as enemies of society. There was no subtlety in his message.
Speaking about this post-9/11 phenomenon, former Vice President Gore observed that, “Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.” He quoted former Justice Brandeis, who said that, “Men feared witches and burnt women.”
The Vice President, I think, captured the spirit of the active citizen in the heat of danger when he said, “The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hanged as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk. Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.”
Like me, he wonders: “Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol?”
Fear is treacherous.
Now, I’m sure there are some conservatives who would disagree with those remarks, but they pretty much reflect what most liberals believe has happened during the post-9/11 era. Certainly no one would consider them to be particularly controversial. (Indeed, they’re now four months old and no one has said a thing.) Too bad Patrick didn’t express himself as clearly on Tuesday as he did in May.
Finally, have a look at Jay Fitzgerald’s post in which he links criticism of Patrick’s remarks to the idiotic brouhaha over MoveOn.org’s “General Betray Us” ad in the New York Times. Jay — a conservative, or at least someone who passes for one in Massachusetts — correctly notes that President Bush’s defenders are going berserk over these two issues because they can’t offer substantive arguments over everything that’s gone wrong in Iraq.
Personally, I thought Patrick’s remarks — or at least that one excerpt — were tone-deaf, and that MoveOn’s ad was silly and misdirected. But offensive? What’s offensive is the right’s knee-jerk response in attempting to turn everything into a attack on the other side’s patriotism.
If Patrick is guilty of anything, it’s failing to understand how the game is played. Too bad it’s a game, isn’t it?
Photo of Patrick (cc) by DoubleSpeakShow. Some rights reserved.