January 18, 2009

MICHAEL GRAHAM: “Looking for this week’s classic American tale? Forget the rise of Barack Obama. It’s the fall of Flight 1549.”

But Barack Obama’s election allows Americans to feel better about themselves, for electing him President. Chesley Sullenberger’s accomplishment, on the other hand, stresses the benefits of hard work, experience, and coolness under pressure — things that require effort, and that might make Americans feel worse about themselves to the extent that they realize that they might not measure up. That’s why Sullenberger’s triumph is an old-fashioned one, and Obama’s is tailor-made for the 21st Century.

On the other hand, there are reasons for Americans to feel good in the Flight 1549 story, too:

If you believe the worst about Americans, you’d expect Thursday’s crash to create a mob of greedy, selfish jerks clawing away for the first shot at an exit. Instead, passengers reported that it took just a single cry of “Women and children first!” and total strangers facing possible drowning stepped aside to let mothers and their infants pass.

And after the crash, the first responders weren’t government rescue workers, but nearby passenger ferries. One ferry worker, Cosmo Mezzina, confessed to reporters afterward that he didn’t even know what the call “man overboard” meant. But he and his co-workers headed straight to the sinking airplane.

No waiting for approval from an attorney or checking the “rope-to-rescuers” ratio in the regulations. Just Americans helping others in need.

The America we see on TV – the embezzlers, incompetents and opportunists – it’s real. So, too, are the folks who frustrate your daily life here in Boston, who cut you off on the Pike or can’t seem to do simple math at the cash register. Yes, they are a part of the American story.

But they aren’t the whole story. In fact, the same driver who cuts you off today is often the guy who would pull over tomorrow to help you out of real trouble.

Read the whole thing.

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