One year ago today, under the cover of darkness, a Navy SEAL team stormed a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with intelligence that the man responsible for the September 11th attacks was inside. Less than an hour later, their mission was accomplished: Osama bin Laden was dead. In the days and weeks after, it was revealed that the operation wasn’t an easy one; in fact, there was great risk. As more and more details revealed the mission was more and more treacherous, Americans everywhere expressed gratitude and admiration primarily towards the SEALs who carried out the mission.
President Obama also got some of the credit and some of the gratitude, in the form of an approval ratings boost and a solid (to say the least) foreign policy credential to use in his reelection campaign. But even though the killing of Osama bin Laden was easily his best political victory in over a year, President Obama made sure to raise his voice over the celebrating crowds to caution that “we don’t need to spike the football.”
Which is why I was surprised to find him doing just that for cheap political points.
Three thousand, nine hundred eighty-one days ago, on October 17, 2000, a small water craft slammed into the side of the USS Cole, killing seventeen American sailors and injuring thirty-nine. While Americans mourned the loss of their sailors, there’s no way we knew – there’s no way we could have known – that the attack on the Cole was an ominous harbinger of a far more deadly attack to come. Nearly eleven months later, on September 11, 2001, four airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a remote field in Shanksville, PA. Ten years later, as the country continues the long healing process, seems an appropriate time to reflect. I’m not really sure why I’m writing this: around this time last year I decided I’d try to write it, but I’m not sure anyone else but me will find it useful. Maybe it’ll offer closure. Or maybe it’s so I don’t forget.
On September 11, 2001, four airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a rural field in Pennsylvania. The coordinated terrorist attack resulted in the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, irreparably changing the skyline of New York and the world forever. Within hours of the attack, Muslim extremists were suspected, and by less than a month later, the FBI released the names and photos of the attackers: Muslim extremists, working for Osama bin Laden.
The political issue this summer has clearly been President Obama’s healthcare plan. I’ve written about it, along with many other dissenters, and really, that should be the end of it. Politicians will do what they’re going to do, everyone will talk about it for a while but then something else will happen and the issue will be forgotten by the American consciousness like most issues are.
What’s happening instead is quite different. As conservatives rush to get information out there, President Obama has already rushed out another web site that sets us all straight, and along with the liberal media, the Obama administration has begun reporting, lambasting and skewering all dissenters of the health care plan. Town halls are being held where some protesters are getting angry and perhaps over the top, but as this writer points out, maybe they have a right to be.
The issue is no longer health care – it’s free speech. My sister gets Brownie points from me this summer for not only making me brownies, but also introducing me to Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. While the 2006 TV show is entertaining and lighthearted, it’s season-long story arc explores some very dark themes including the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. The show is set in 2006, but there are many flashbacks to the post-9/11 days and weeks showing the main character (Matt Albie) remaining patriotic, but irreverent, as he tried to do his job as a comedy writer. It was after watching this that I wonder how many of us were on the other side of Matt Albie, criticizing all dissenters and claiming they were un-American. I like to think I keep a pretty open mind, but in the immediate days and weeks after those days I’m sure that while maybe I didn’t express that sentiment, I felt it.
The crisis with health care is similar. We’re in one of the largest recessions ever seen in modern times, and as people lose their jobs and companies cut back, people are losing their health care coverage or seeing it reduced before their very uninsured eyes, and they probably face similar emotions as the citizens of New York, Washington and really the entire U.S. faced in 2001. On the other side, people who still have jobs don’t want to give up more of their paychecks to taxes when it could go towards college, food or gasoline. It’s an emotional, personal issue for anyone who’s responsible for their own healthcare.
I’m going to bring up another issue that is periodically discussed which emotional for many people: flag burning. Let me get one thing out in the open: I am personally against flag burning. That is, if you were burning a flag (or attempting to do so) in front of me and I could do something about it, I’d either beat you up or go all Rick Monday up in here). However, it’s not up to the government to decide we can’t burn the flag. This isn’t a belief I’ve arrived at lightly, and I used to support a flag burning amendment. But since then I’ve realized it’s more important to allow some disrespectful dissenters than sacrifice freedoms that might be needed someday. There are certainly more respectful ways to protest, but it’s up to us as a society to keep it civil, not the government.
So in essence, maybe Republicans who don’t want universal health care are wrong. Maybe Democrats who do want it are wrong. But killing the debate is also wrong. It was wrong after September 11th (although, if I had to be honest, I’d say that there was much more universal support for the actions taken after September 11th), and it’s wrong now. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with the issue – it’s less important than your freedom to defend it. That is, if you blindly support Obama on every issue, (or Bush, for that matter), remember Senator Amidala’s quote in Revenge of the Sith: “So this is how democracy dies…to thunderous applause.” Killing debate is tantamount to killing democracy.
P.S. There’s another great movie to watch that shows what could start by just surrendering the slightest bit of freedom: V for Vendetta.