Executive Branch

Solidarity Squandered

The attacks brought us together until we let them turn us against each other--and damn near everyone else.

The day began in a dull civic deadness. It was an election day, the second Tuesday in September, in one of the world's most political cities. The weather was perfect: a cloudless Indian-summer day. The polls opened at six in the morning. But no one was showing up. Did it even matter who governed? Seven and a half months earlier, a Republican had become president and the sky had not fallen. The federal budget was in surplus. New York was about to enjoy a fiscal windfall from a new 99-year lease on the World Trade Center. The hot issue in the mayoral primary, supposedly, was how the city would spend all the money. But nobody cared. When September 11, 2001, dawned, collective rituals of civic engagement felt like anachronism. Until the hot issue was mooted when the center was transformed into twin, acrid clouds of debris and incinerated human flesh, and everything, as we used to say, changed. How did September 11 change America? We became, of course, so much more frightened that our...

The 9/11 President

If the attacks hadn't occurred, it's impossible to imagine Barack Obama would have been elected—but the legacy of those attacks continues to burden his presidency.

In a sense, their true enemy was less America than an arrogant future to which a vain country lay claim. This was a country that named the previous hundred years the American Century. So as much as the 19 men, who commandeered four airliners nine months, eleven days, and nine hours into the next century, despised America—despised its "pure products [that] go crazy," as William Carlos Williams described them, including a rowdy pluralism, a heedless innovation, an irreverent culture, and a reckless dream that the country named as surely as it named centuries—these men despised the way such American things were expressions of the modern age. They flew those airliners into the clock of the new century to shatter its face, wreck its watchworks, still its hands, and blast into space its numbers, and in every way that they meant to succeed, they failed. Whether they succeeded in other ways that matter more remains to be seen. America gets the politics it deserves more than we know. A nearly...

Fancy Talk

(Flickr/White House photostream)
For some time, liberals have felt that their messenger-in-chief has been AWOL. In the wake of President Barack Obama's acquiescence to $38 billion in spending cuts, many targeted at vulnerable populations, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote of the president that "arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn't even using that -- or, rather, he's using it to reinforce his enemies' narrative." Just three days later, the president allayed these fears somewhat when he released his own deficit-reduction plan as a direct counterpoint to the House Republican budget and delivered a powerful speech defending liberal ideals and a positive role for government. Obama called out the Republicans for seeking to end Medicare, slash vital investments in the future, and give new tax breaks to the wealthy. Nonetheless, concerns about the president's message, or lack thereof, predated his spending-cut deal with House Speaker John Boehner and will no doubt re-emerge at different...

Obama on Libya

Obama's speech betrayed the tensions liberals feel about intervention in Libya.

President Barack Obama speaks about Libya at the National Defense University in Washington, Monday, March 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama, in his address to the nation, tried to reassure an ambivalent, inattentive public and a skeptical press corps about American involvement in NATO's no-fly zone over Libya. The president's speech sought out a middle ground, couching his administration's approach as measured but decisive in the campaign against loyalists to Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. "In just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secured an international mandate to protect civilians, stopped an advancing army, prevented a massacre, and established a no-fly zone with our allies and partners," Obama declared. The president favorably contrasted the last 31 days, in which the international community mobilized the no-fly zone over Libya, with NATO operations in a disintegrating Yugoslavia, which took about one year to improve the situation. He also distinguished his present actions from those taken by George W. Bush in the 2003...