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9/11 And The Overculture

I just recorded a brief segment for PJTV's September 11th show. I had tons of notes prepared, since I didn't know how long I'd be on, so I'm reprinting some of them here in the form of a blog post on 9/11's impact on the culture war:

9/11 changed the culture quite remarkably, but it did so in ways that may not have been expected. Back in 2004, the great Charles Krauthammer wrote a piece in which he referred to "the Pressure Cooker Theory of Hydraulic Release":

The loathing goes far beyond the politicians. Liberals as a body have gone quite around the twist. I count one all-star rock tour, three movies, four current theatrical productions and five best sellers (a full one-third of the New York Times list) variously devoted to ridiculing, denigrating, attacking and devaluing this president, this presidency and all who might, God knows why, support it.

How to explain? With apologies to Dr. Freud, I propose the Pressure Cooker Theory of Hydraulic Release.

The hostility, resentment, envy and disdain, all superheated in Florida, were not permitted their natural discharge. Came 9/11 and a lid was forced down. How can you seek revenge for a stolen election by a nitwit usurper when all of a sudden we are at war and the people, bless them, are rallying around the flag and hailing the commander in chief? With Bush riding high in the polls, with flags flying from pickup trucks (many of the flags, according to Howard Dean, Confederate), the president was untouchable.

The Democrats fell unnaturally silent. For two long, agonizing years, they had to stifle and suppress. It was the most serious case of repression since Freud's Anna O. went limp. The forced deference nearly killed them. And then, providentially, they were saved. The clouds parted and bad news rained down like manna: WMDs, Abu Ghraib, Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, Joe Wilson and, most important, continued fighting in Iraq.

Stripped of his halo, the president's ratings went down. The spell was broken. He was finally once again human and vulnerable. With immense relief, the critics let loose.

The result has been volcanic. The subject of one prominent new novel is whether George W. Bush should be assassinated. This is all quite unhinged. Good God. What if Bush is re-elected? If they lose to him again, Democrats will need more than just consolation. They'll need therapy.

The pressure was released during the 2004 election cycle, but when John Kerry lost, it mutated further into a virulent strain that was only fully released after Katrina. As Mickey Kaus very presciently noted, Hurricane Katrina gave the media a way to talk about Iraq without talking about Iraq:
I'm not saying Bush and the Feds don't clearly deserve major grief for not getting today's National Guard aid convoy into downtown New Orleans a couple of days earlier. Some people are probably dead as a result. But the commentators on Washington Week in Review seemed a little too happy when proclaiming this a "debacle" that will damage Bush politically for a long, long time. And I don't think they were happy just because Bush has suffered a blow. I think it's because the hurricane and its New Orleans aftermath at least seemed to solve a big problem for anti-Bush commentators and politicians. Previously, they couldn't grouse about the Iraq War without seeming defeatist (and anti-liberationist and maybe even selfishly isolationist). Even the Clintons never figured a way out of that trap. But nature has succeded where they failed; it has opened up a way out, at least temporarily. Now Bush opponents can argue, in some cases quite accurately, that without the Iraq deployment aid would have gotten to New Orleans faster. And 'if we can [tk] in Iraq, why can't we [tk] in our own South?' They aren't being selfish. They are just asserting priorities! In short, Katrina gives them a way to talk about Iraq without talking about Iraq. No wonder Gwen Ifill smiles the "inner smile."
In a very real sense, 9/11 also created the Blogosphere and the idea of partisan journalism--and I don't mean that in any sort of pejorative sense--which began with Matt Drudge and Fox News in the mid 1990s, and Rush Limbaugh's national radio show nearly a decade earlier, and began to become an increasingly accepted element outside of the conservative media.

In 2004, the New York Times admitted what was obvious to all concerned--that it was a liberal publication; and a year prior, Eason Jordan, then of CNN, admitted that his network had shilled for Saddam Hussein. The pressure cooker that Krauthammer refers to led directly to some incredibly sloppy thinking, such as Dan Rather's MemoGate at CBS, and the rise of MSNBC, an openly hyper-partisan division of an otherwise staid establishment liberal news operation like NBC. This morning, MSNBC nobly ran the videotapes of The Today Showfrom 9/11, when all was chaos and uncertainty except for the two towers and the Pentagon being hit. But yesterday, as Kathryn Jean Lopez noted, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC said:

The television networks were told that the Convention would pause, early in the evening, when children could still be watching, for a 9/11 Tribute, and they were encouraged to broadcast it.

What we got was not a tribute to the dead of 9/11, nor even a tribute to the responders, or the singularity of purpose we all felt. The Republicans gave us sociological pornography, a virtual snuff film.

In addition to hyper-partisanship, 9/11, also fueled (if you'll pardon the carboncentric pun) the rise of environmentalism in the media. Julia Gorin, whom I've interviewed for PJM Political on XM, had a piece in the Christian Science Monitor in 2006 in which she talked about environmentalism as a sort of Freudian displacement for the War On Terror:
Tough language is borrowed from the war on terror and applied to the war on weather. "I really consider this a national security issue," says celebrity activist and "An Inconvenient Truth" producer Laurie David. "Truth" star Al Gore calls global warming a "planetary emergency." Bill Clinton's first worry is climate change: "It's the only thing that I believe has the power to fundamentally end the march of civilization as we know it."

Freud called it displacement. People fixate on the environment when they can't deal with real threats. Combating the climate gives nonhawks a chance to look tough. They can flex their muscle for Mother Nature, take a preemptive strike at an SUV. Forget the Patriot Act, it's Kyoto that'll save you.

That's why in 2004 we got "The Day After Tomorrow" - so we could worry about junk science that may or may not kill us in 1,000 years instead of the people who really are trying to kill us the day after tomorrow.

While the hawks among us worry about preventing the Armageddon that's coming, our modern-day hippies just want to make sure the planet is pristine when it does. In fact, the more menacing terrorism becomes, the more some people seem to worry about the weather. Scared and unsure how to fight terrorists, they confront "climate change," which only requires spending trillions of other people's dollars on something that may not need fixing or may not be fixable. No wonder some of these people chain themselves to trees - they think money grows on them.

Why are these people so worried about the environment, anyway? It's not like they're living on this planet. Speaking of which, scientists have recently discovered global warming on Mars. See that? Martians need to stop driving those darn SUVs!

Notice that the undercurrent in all the doomsday rhetoric is America as chief culprit in the axis of enviro-evil (just as it is in all the world's turmoil). Having found a warm and fuzzy cause to snuggle up against in this big, bad, scary world, the enviros pick a fight with the one guy they're not scared of: America.

Such displacement also helps to explain the conspiracy theories and "trutherism." For a very long time, ABC had no problem running someone like Rosie O'Donnell as part of their daytime programming, who in the course of five years went from publicly claiming support for President Bush in the early stages of 9/11 to literally telling ABC viewers not to trust what they had just heard on Good Morning America and other news shows.

The events of the morning of September 11, 2001 have changed the culture in ways that few could anticipate that morning, and will continue to do so, no matter who wins in November.