By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What Patrick meant

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’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.

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  1. Rick in Duxbury

    The Governor knows only too well how the game is played in MA. Even though you have no credible opposition, ensure that they are even more marginalized, by whatever means necessary. Can’t be too careful. (Then again, there’s always politics when you tire of the NFL).

  2. Bill Baar

    …sounds like Dick Cheney is America’s biggest fear……bigger fear than the feared global warming…I’m guessing terrorists don’t fear this follow much.And if AQ comes to think Patrick’s views typical of America, then that might be a misunderstanding that could lead to a fearful outcome.WWII started in part because a foe badly misunderstood the complex and seemingly frivolus United StatesThey misunderstood our reluctance to fight until we were only faced with a Kerry-style war-of-last resort.America fights as a war of anniliation. My Uncle was one of the first Americans in Nagaski after the bomb. He helped clear the harbor of mines. So misunderstand Americans can cost fearfully. America fails in spreading Democracy, than the Islamic world may pay a very bitter price for it.And it will be a Dem Prez letting the dogs-of-war upon them after we’re left with no option but the war of last resort.

  3. Peter Porcupine

    Pity he didn’t learn a thing or two about the alleged game at his botched press conference the FIRST time he had to apoligize for arrogant remarks to Andy Hiller, after whining about how he was being hazed and misunderstood.Or is the motto of the Patrick Administration that hubris needs no learning curve, and snootiness to all save those you know already agree with you will prevail?If a GOP governor in the last 16 years had sneered that the only people who didn’t understand his clear and impeccable message were dummy liberals, you’d have been howling for their scalps. Not a peep about Patrick saying the only people who didn’t clearly understand his remarks were consrvatives (gee – what happened to being the Governor of ALL the pople, not just your buddies?).MEMO TO DEVAL – It does not MATTER if YOU think you offended people. This is not a legal verdict with points to be scored. If they say they were offended, apologize for the misunderstanding. Lather, rinse, repeat – apparently ad infinitum.

  4. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Bill Clinton showed Osama Bin Laden a whole lot of love and understanding, and what did that get us?

  5. Anonymous

    Dan, your site has turned into a slogan dumb for wingnuts.

  6. Neil

    fluffy, and George Bush has had six years to catch Osama, but no matter how hard he looks for him in Iraq, he just can’t seem to find him. It’s almost as if, he’s not really trying. He even said: “I truly am not that concerned about him.”And what did that get us?

  7. Anonymous

    What the governor needs is a speechwriter. A person who can capture his tone and “voice” but has the time and skill to write in such a way as to keep the governor out of these kinds of situations. Governor Patrick should give over and trust someone to help him in this way.

  8. Anonymous

    Dan,”Idiotic brouhaha” over the MoveOn ad? Petreaus has dedicated his life to serving and defending this country. He has accomplished more in six months than previous generals did in 4 years. He deserves our respect. HE HAS EARNED IT. MoveOn smeared him, period. “Silly and misdirected”. Please. What they did was a disgrace, and an intellectually honest person would be able to say so, and still oppose the war, want withdrawal, hate Bush and everything he stands for. The fact that you can’t/won’t is telling. Your bias against the military is showing,

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Kevin: My bias in favor of free speech is showing again. Did you even bother to read my earlier post?I’m very surprised to see you say that Gen. Petraeus has accomplished more in six months than the previous generals did in four years. That sounds like *my* line. *Your* line, on the other hand, is that we’ve been winning all along and that the media have been lying about it.

  10. Neil

    Tiger tiger burning bright,In the forests of the night.What immortal hand or eye,Could frame thy fearful wingnutter-eye!Sorry. For some reason it just popped into my head.

  11. Anonymous

    Dan, It wasn’t free speech; it was 65% discounted speech thanks to their friends at the NYT. And the free speech excuse is just that. They have a right to say it, that’s not the issue. I think decent and honorable people should be appalled by it, given Petreaus’ life record and service to the country, from West Point to Iraq. I would say that I’m surprised at you for not calling MoveOn’s ad what it really was. The fact that you can’t/won’t says to me your not really bothered by it. I know what that ad wasn’t, it wasn’t “silly and misdirected.”As for implying that I have only railed against the media when it comes to Iraq, nice try Dan. You display the typical liberal attitude, “those stupid conservatives railing against the media, its all the media’s fault.” I have acknowledged repeatedly that Bush has made many mistakes in Iraq, made the job harder and more difficult and defined victory down. Yet despite all that, I’ve said that we have been making more progress all along than the MSM and the public realize. I have always felt things were going better in Iraq than the MSM has reported. I come to that conclusion from reading and watching a ton of media and talking to people every week who are there.As for “your” line about progress under Petraeus, I seem to have missed those posts where you were praising what he has accomplished with his counter insurgency strategy.Kevin

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Kevin: Good grief, man. Let me help you: “I also think that Petraeus stands as one of the few honorable leaders in this terrible folly. His analysis — that U.S. and Iraqi troops are making progress on the ground — seems eminently reasonable. Too bad Iraq’s leadership continues to rip the country apart.” I only wrote that a few days ago.As for my “can’t/won’t” with, I’m not sure what I can’t/won’t do. Even though I think MoveOn is wrong, I’m not offended in the least. The organization is engaging in criticism of a public official for the manner in which he’s conducted his government duties. You just can’t be offended by that if you have any regard for the Constitution.

  13. Anonymous

    Presuming that any attempt at civility is an attack on the Constitution is as childish as presuming opposition to the Iraq war equals a lack of patriotism. Per most of the MSM, some parts of the Constitution appear to be more threatened, e.g, those with which they make their living.

  14. Neil

    “I have always felt things were going better in Iraq than the MSM has reported. I come to that conclusion from reading and watching a ton of media and talking to people every week who are there.” A ton of non-mainstream media, you mean. If it’s available by the ton, then it doesn’t matter what the MSM reports, as there’s such a hefty amount of alternative. So much so, that one might almost conclude that it renders the mainstream/non-mainstream distinction meaningless. Other than its usefulness as a lazy rhetorical device, of course.At least though you’re talking to Iraqi people every week. That’s commendable, and will definitely help with the insight.

  15. Scott Allen Miller

    I think this whole controvery about the speech is just a failure of human understanding. We’re allowed to read whatever we want into Patrick’s consistently vague remarks so long as what we read is positive. If not, we should show him the courtesy of withholding our dissent.9 1/2 months and ticking. 9 1/2 months. Still waiting for some… any… dividends on all those promises of change.

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