What We Didn’t Learn from 9/11 (concluded)

The political and policy discussions after 9/11 immediately centered on security. We needed a larger military, more intelligence, more monitoring of potentially dangerous people, stricter border controls. We needed to kill bin Laden. We need to wipe out al Qaeda. These thoughts were understandable even if many of the actual responses were not justified or wasteful or simply wrong. We had little discussion, however, of what should have been evident from 9/11—the importance of a strong, efficient, creative government in non-militaristic area

On September 11, 2001, my office was eight blocks from the Twin Towers. I had come to work at eight to prepare to teach a law school class later in the morning. I took a break to go to the bank and heard the first plane go over my head and crash. I saw the hole on the upper floors of the Tower. Mesmerized, I realized that I was watching people dying. I decided that I wanted to see what the Tower looked like from the other side. As I got two blocks from the World Trade Center, the second plane hit the far side of the other Tower and flames shot out in my direction. I walked back to my office amidst crying and wailing people. I called the spouse to tell her I was ok, but the call got cut off when the first Tower fell. I decided it was time to get out of lower Manhattan.

I had driven to work. My usual routes home to Brooklyn were over the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges, both a few blocks from my office, but I knew they were closed. Picking up and dropping off people along the way, I drove to the next bridge over the East River. I was in line to cross the Williamsburg Bridge, with but two cars in front of me to get on the span, when traffic officials signaled that the structure was now closed. I went to the next crossing; got in line; and had it close just in front of me. And the next. There was no way to drive to Brooklyn. I turned around and headed south. I parked my car on a Chinatown street and walked with hordes of others over the Manhattan Bridge roadway to Brooklyn. (The mind operates on curious levels. Although I had driven over that span many times, I found myself thinking in the midst of the horror and shock of that day about the only other time I had crossed it on foot. In those days, no walkway on the Manhattan Bridge was open to pedestrians, but I once ran in a “Courthouse to Courthouse” race. It started by the Manhattan federal courts, went over the Manhattan Bridge, which had been closed to vehicles for the event, wound on local streets to a Brooklyn courthouse, and then reversed course to Manhattan. It was not a long race, but a tough one, all uphill or downhill. Now, on 9/11, it was not an organized run of a few hundred, but a solemn trudge by the tens of thousands, as if we were extras in a Biblical epic, except this was all too real.)

 In mid-afternoon, a news report stated that some East River bridges were again open. I walked a mile from home to the Manhattan Bridge where one bus stood to ferry passengers over the river. I got to my car and quickly doubted the accuracy of the news report since I kept finding bridges closed. About to give up again, I found I could cross the Tri-Borough Bridge into Queens, which, of course, abuts Brooklyn, but then I found my usual way home from that Bridge was closed. Normally I would merge off the Bridge on to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but traffic officials were blocking the entrance to the expressway. An officer told me that I would have to take local streets. I prided myself on knowing my way around much of New York City, but Queens was always mysterious. I literally drove in circles, seeing one particular building at least three times. Finally, I came upon a familiar intersection because it was one I sometimes passed when I took the NBP to tennis on Roosevelt Island. I finally knew a route home. In my wanderings, which were less than twelve hours after the first attack, I passed many entrances to elevated roadways. Every one of them was blocked, I presume out of security concerns, by government officials.  I can’t imagine how many such entrances there are in New York City, but I thought what an amazing logistical feat it was to have closed every one of them in such short order. It took a good government, a strong government, a large government (which in New York City was largely a unionized government) to accomplish this. We pay a lot of taxes in New York, but it seemed more than worth it on the night of 9/11 for the response that I saw.

Of course, this was one of the many feats, and one of the more minor ones, that New York City quickly accomplished in response to the terror. When I had gone to my car, I could see that Manhattan south of Canal Street had been effectively cordoned off—once again, a remarkable logistical feat. And in the coming days, I would learn about the efforts and coordination of emergency medical personnel and school guards and sanitation workers and firefighters and housing officials and welfare workers and much more. Volunteers stepped forward as New Yorkers pulled together, but New York would not have recovered as well as it did without the effective performance at all levels of government. And this was not the work of bureaucratic drudges. The situation required new coordination among different government branches. It required creativity. It required dedicated service.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani got lots of praise because New York performed so well after 9/11, but a salient fact was overlooked. The City government as a whole performed marvelously. Plans had been drawn for emergencies, and they went into effect. And what put them into effect was Big Government. Liberals and conservatives both praised Rudy, but the importance of all levels of governments should also have been stressed. Would other cities where the mantra is against government have performed as well? We, luckily, do not know, but a story that should have come out of that tragedy was not just the performance of an individual, but how important a strong, dedicated, and creative government can be. If that strong, dedicated, and creative government had not been there, Giuliani would not have been effective and not have been a hero. In those unusual times when New York City was generally admired (Do you remember that accurate Onion headline: “Rest of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection for New York”?), besides the discussions about national security, lessons should have been given about the worth of the kind of government conservatives rail against. Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric was not heard in those days. It had been proved false.

Hail, Hail Hillsdale (concluded)

(This entire essay will be posted again in order on Wednesday, April 1.)

The last two questions of the Hillsdale College survey on the Electoral College were not about the constitutional provision but were meant to promote Hillsdale’s outreach efforts. However, the last question about the Electoral College, was, in technical polling terms, a doozy. It said I could check any or all the answers to the question, “Why do you think the movement to do away with the Electoral College has been so successful as it is?” You might wonder about their definition of “successful.” The Electoral College is with us. No constitutional amendment to abolish it recently has even passed Congress and been sent to the states. The odds that the Electoral College will not be with us for our next presidential election are about as large as me winning the 100 meter race at the Olympics. Or me being mistaken for Marilyn Monroe. (I’ve been thinking about Rudy Giuliani again.)

The answers, however, were doozier than the question. First, I could pick that civics education has been neglected. I can’t tell if Hillsdale thinks American civics has always been deficient or if they think that is a recent phenomenon. If recent, then views about the EC should vary significantly by age, and those of us of a certain age should have markedly different views of the Electoral College from those whose knees still work because our civics education was not neglected. Although there are many reasons why views of the Electoral College might differ by age besides changing civics courses, Hillsdale might have found it useful or at least interesting to capture the age differences of the respondents. However, the poll, while asking for my name and email address (Why? They already have that information or I would not have gotten their poll. Or did they want my name and email for some big brother thing? Cue Jaws music again.), did not ask for my age.

The second choice for explaining why the movement to rid us of the Electoral College had been so successful is that because “too many Americans are so overcome with partisanship that they forget how the Electoral College works to unify the country” and ensures representation of all regions and interests. On the one hand, according to this answer, the Electoral College unifies; on the other, the country is split by forgetful partisans. They are going to need to explain to me that positive unification function again because they have told me in the same sentence that it is not working.

 The third choice offers me an explanation that all of the left-wing media and in particular “The New York Times’ ‘1619 Project’” has undermined “informed patriotism by promoting a biased distortion of our nation’s history and our Constitution.” I wondered how many Kevin Bacon degrees of separation it takes to get logically from The 1619 Project to efforts to reform the Electoral College. It can’t be a straight (nor logical) path. In addition, those Times articles are eighteen months old, and almost all adults surely must have formed impressions of our presidential selection process long before that. Efforts to change the Electoral College existed well before The 1619 Project was published or printed. And surely, if The Project caused this reaction to the Electoral College, Hillsdale must think that since the 1776 Commission report is now available to all, everything is looking rosy. (Cue “Put on a Happy Face.”)

I then came to the fourth and last option for an answer to why Electoral College reform proposals have been so successful. It allowed me to check off “Unsure.” There were no more responses. I was not given any options such as the movement to change the Electoral College has been “successful” because a) it is a good idea; b) because “the people” want a more democratic country; c) because the Electoral College was an unfortunate historical accident; d) because each vote in our country should count equally; e) because each voter in the country should have an equal incentive to vote; or f) any other reason. I was reminded of Stephen Colbert’s regular shtick a decade ago when he would ask liberal guests whether George W. Bush was merely a great president or whether he was the greatest.

The Hillsdale poll is not a serious one even though it purportedly “will help Hillsdale College more clearly understand the views of mainstream Americans concerning this issue—views we will make available to policymakers and opinion leaders.” Apparently if I fill it out, I can now count myself for one of the few times ever as a mainstream American. That is a mighty incentive to do so, but I need a few more options in the answers than the ones I am offered, and any American, mainstream, sidestream, slipstream, upstream, or downstream, should feel the same if they do a modicum of thinking or research about how we select our president.

I have gotten and seen other polls that are equally as partisan as this one, but almost always these are from overtly advocacy groups. (I have been approached on the street by solicitors for the American Humane Association, for example, with, “Do you love animals?” They never seem to think mine is the right answer: “I love to eat them.”) I am not surprised when political parties or other partisan groups send me senseless, leading questions. Hillsdale College, however, claims not to be an advocacy group or a clown show. It claims to be an institution dedicated to upholding and promoting the standards of a rigorous education, and therefore it should be held to different standards from partisan or advocacy groups. It should be seeking to enlighten not indoctrinate with shoddy history and worse logic.

However, if this drivel on the Electoral College is meant as an example of the historical knowledge or critical thinking Hillsdale imparts, this conservative college is failing its students and, sadly, the country. And my ladies and lassies, perhaps you can join me in shedding a few more tears for the further dumbing down of America.

On the other hand, some of the Hillsdale online lecture offerings still intrigue me.

Let’s Go Bowling

It is college football bowl season. There are many reasons to find college football despicable, ridiculous, and ludicrous, and bowl games are one of them. The games are played when the football players either should be with family or studying for finals. Most of the games are unexciting, meaningless affairs between teams that have been mediocre in the already too long regular college football season. Of course, this year the games are being played in mostly empty stadiums, but that is often true in other years, too. The games generate so little enthusiasm that the stadiums were mostly empty in past seasons. Only a handful of the many bowls produce excitement and get crowds.

The games, however, generate money. They are televised and they also draw a sponsor whose name makes it into the title of the bowl making for some strange sounding contests. I was reminded of this early this bowl season when I was flicking through ESPN and saw that the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl was on. (I have no idea who the teams were or what the outcome was, and I am willing to bet none of you do either.) I had never heard of RoofClaim.com before, and I still don’t know what it is, but I assume, but do not know, that it has some connection with Boca Raton, Florida.

My impression is that there are fewer bowl games this season compared to years past, but we still have some intriguing bowl names that raise questions. For example, this year there will be a Cheez-It Bowl and a Duke’s Mayo Bowl. I assume there will be normal football games at these events, but the title makes it seem as if there will be something like mud wrestling where the football will be played in fields covered in a yellow snack or in one of carefully prepared pimiento cheese and other mayonnaise-based delicacies. They might be fun to watch.

We will have a PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, and I can’t help wonder if this will be a real head knocking game or a virtual event. The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl seems to be working against itself. Should I eat a chicken sandwich or the fruit? Or is the chain marketing a new culinary creation? And what should I make of this year’s R + L Carrier New Orleans Bowl, the SERVPRO First Responders Bowl, the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, and the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.

These names may have some appeal, but to me they don’t match the titles from olden days, which in this case means a few years ago—real classics like the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. And of course, that all-time favorite, the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl.

In today’s world, however, we need not just create new names for bowl games, we need to rethink them to make them more interesting. I have a few suggestions.

The Paul Manafort Ukraine Bowl. Instead of a fake-tasting sports drink, delicious borscht is poured over the head of the winning coach as  commentators read a lobbyist-written script, generating a huge bill, that Ukraine, not Russia, was the creator of the beet soup. At halftime, instead of marching bands, ostriches are paraded as well-connected people bid to have the best-looking birds made into jackets. The proceeds go to a “charity,” but no one knows what that means.

The Roger Stone WikiLeaks Bowl where it is mandatory to steal your opponent’s playbook. The game officials wear faux Saville Row clothes, and their every third pronouncement is a lie. The referee said it was a first down, but was it? Or was that a dirty trick?

The Rudy Giuliani Get-Even-Crazier Bowl. The teams get to make up their own rules for every play, but each is still doomed to failure. The field is delineated with hair dye, and the game is played in a warm climate. As the temperature begins to rise, the lines run and form Rorschach tests.

The Smartmatic Hugo Chavez Venezuela Bowl. Even though there is no such game, OAN, Newsmax, and Fox are heavily bidding on it with Fox planning on Maria Bartiromo doing the play by play, which would be her first real journalism in years.

The Dominion Voting Systems Bowl where 47.3% of the spectators believe that every time their team scores the scoreboard adds even more points to the opponent’s total.

The Donald Suck-Up Swamp Bowl. Played in a foul-smelling bog that many spectators pretend not to see or care about, each player drawing a penalty can beseech a man with orange hair sitting behind a tiny table by saying “Pardon me” in hopes of having the offense forgiven.