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Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2001 / 21 Elul, 5762

Joseph Perkins

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Americans first! -- FOR much of my adult life -- which dates to Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981 -- there has been a schism in American politics. A division between Democrat and Republican. An enmity between liberal and conservative.

All of that changed on Sept. 11, with the attack upon our nation by foreign infiltrators. We were not Democrat or Republican on that horrible day. We were not liberal or conservative.

We were Americans, by G-d!

We wept for our countrymen who perished in the flames of the World Trade Center, who died in the rubble of the Pentagon, and who passed away in a Pennsylvania field. We vowed to wage war -- that's right, war -- on those responsible for the attacks. We rallied around our commander-in-chief.

The cynicism, the distrust, the hostility that defined the political culture before the terror attacks gave way to unabashed patriotism, to bipartisan cooperation and to shared purpose. The caricatures we Americans had of each other -- based on party, based on ideology -- withered away.

Nothing was more illustrative of this sea change in the political zeitgeist than the remarks of such liberal Democrats as California Sen. Barbara Boxer and New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, both of whom called for military strikes against the culprits behind the Sept. 11 atrocities.

"This was an attack on us," said Boxer. "We're acting in self-defense."

"When someone attacks you," said Nadler, "you've got to respond."

And with that, the two longtime doves joined their fellow lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, in near-unanimous approval of a joint resolution authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to go after Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terror network.

Meanwhile, President Bush continues to enjoy extraordinary support, not just on Capitol Hill, but throughout the entire country -- and from Americans of all demographic stripes. Democrats and Republicans. Men and women. Rich and poor. Black and white, yellow and brown.

Indeed, even former political adversaries have closed ranks behind the president. Like Al Gore, who delivered a praiseworthy speech at the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.

"We are united behind our president, George W. Bush," said Gore, putting behind, once and for all, hard feelings left from last November's bitterly contested presidential election.

"George W. Bush is my commander-in-chief," the former vice president declared. Further evidence of the transformation of the body politic is the surprisingly patriotic response of much of the national news media to the terrorist attacks.

Like E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, who drew a line in the sand between "mainstream liberals and progressives" who support America's war on terrorism and those on the left fringe who suggest that the United States turn the other cheek to terrorists.

"It's hard to argue that war is not justified," he wrote, "in a case when a nation has come under direct attack, as ours just has."

Dionne's sentiments were echoed by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. "There will be a season later on for talking," he wrote. "And there will be a season for promoting Arab-Israeli peace or economic development. But, right now -- right now is the season of hunting down people who want to destroy our country."

Even the custodians of our popular culture -- record, television and film industry producers and artists -- have rallied around the flag in the wake of the terror attacks. Indeed, dozens of the biggest stars in entertainment took part in a two-hour telethon that raised more than $150 million for victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"We're going to try to do something," said Tom Hanks, opening the broadcast.

The actor's choice of words were deliberate. They were uttered by one of the heroic passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93, who fought to the death with their hijackers rather than allow them to crash the jetliner into the White House, or the Capitol, or some other target.

The blood of our fallen countrymen in New York City and Washington, D.C., has brought us together. Yes, we are still Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative. But we are Americans first and foremost.

JWR contributor Joseph Perkins is a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and television commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, NEA