REMEMBER WHEN IT WAS A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE?…. Two years ago on this date, in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, the two major-party candidates pulled their television ads and appeared together in New York. It was a reminder that, as recently as 2008, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was still considered unique — a day on which politics and divisiveness were simply out of bounds.
As you may have noticed, that’s no longer the case.
Beck and Palin are “commemorating” 9/11 with an expensive event later today; Ralph Reed has his event in D.C.; Newt Gingrich is unveiling some kind of right-wing movie he made; some conservatives are rallying in lower Manhattan to prevent a clothing store from being converted to a community center; and all kinds of candidates are holding campaign events and fundraisers today.
Dave Weigel considered the transition from a solemn 9/11 to the crass politics of today, and asked how we got this point The answer, he explained, is “with a lot of hard work.”
For nine years, supporters of an aggressive approach to terrorism as a response to 9/11 worked to make sure that they owned the anniversary. For nine years they got brushback from the media and from the political actors who had the most to lose if 9/11 was seen as proof that ultra-tough conservatives were right and that ultra-tolerant liberals were wrong. And the conservatives won.
What seems especially noteworthy about this is the noticeable lack of a backlash. In previous years, Republicans seemed nervous — they wanted a politicized 9/11, but didn’t want to risk dealing with the criticism. It’s why, for years, candidates simply wouldn’t use 9/11 imagery in their campaign ads — it was the kind of tactic that was more likely to lose votes than gain them.
None of this applies anymore, in part, I suspect, because of the larger political landscape. Right-wing anger is driving the discourse, and those most likely to push back against GOP exploitation of 9/11 are in a defensive crouch, hoping the midterms don’t go too badly. When conservatives are emboldened, they’re more likely to push the decency envelope in ways they wouldn’t before.
The result is a phenomenon we’re seeing quite a bit of this year: far-right shamelessness on a grand scale.