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More Than Money.

Not my household idols.

I had an odd reaction on 9/11.

I was living in Chicago. My son was four, at home, not in school at that point. His babysitter was there so we could get some work done.

I must have come in late, a few minutes after the first plane hit because at first I wasn't sure if it was tape or live. I knew right away it was deliberate -- terrorism not an accident. Not on a bright, clear day.

My reaction was to laugh. Not a happy laugh, but the outraged, disbelieving, hubristic sound you make when someone has pushed you to the point where you have no choice but to hurt them. Revenge came first. Sadness later. I suppose that's my core personality: the first thought is always to push back. My first perception is always about the power dynamic. Normal emotions show up later, after the moment of crisis is past. Self doubt comes . . . well, it usually doesn't.

I've often described myself, only half-jokingly, as a civilized thug. It's not that I run around getting into fistfights, I don't. I'm a nice guy. My deal with the world is: don't push me, I won't push you.

But that inner thug is why I'm not a liberal. You remember the famous line of Sean Connery's in The Untouchables? "Capone sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue." You can have your gentle Jesus meek and mild talking about blessing the meek, I'll take 007.

By that afternoon on 9/11, at the point where it was becoming clear that this was an Al Qaeda action I didn't just want Bin Laden dead. I wanted Afghanistan melted down. I wanted to see mushroom clouds in bloom.

By September 20th 2001, when President Bush went to Congress to speak to the American people I had tears running down my face and it is no exaggeration to say that if he'd asked me to sell my house to buy bombs I'd have done it. I'd have dragged my pudgy, middle-aged ass off to boot camp if he'd asked it.

Of course that wasn't what happened. Instead Mr. Bush gave me money. At that time we were selling a lot of books, cashing big royalty checks, so I was "the rich," I got the tax cut. I remember feeling insulted. As though I wouldn't willingly give them whatever I had to win this war. As if at a time like that my main concern was a few extra grand to spend on buying muni bonds and dinners at Charlie Trotters. I was 47 years old at the time, I knew I wasn't going to be fitted for a uniform, but I thought I'd be asked to throw something into the effort. But, no. Like 99% of Americans I was asked for nothing.

Mr. Bush started to lose me right there, when he said he was keeping the tax cuts. That's all people like me were supposed to care about: as long as got our piles of cash, we'd be okay. It was a slap in the face. Some tiny sliver of society would carry the weight, and the rest of us were to do nothing. In fact, we were to carry on precisely as if nothing at all had happened.

I'll never be a real liberal because when a guy hits me I don't wonder whether I've done something to deserve it, I just wonder if I can beat him.

But I'll never be a true conservative, either, because there are things more important to me than money.

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“More Than Money.”

  1. Blogger amba Says:

    Perfect punch line, MT. Perfect. You just slapped back.

  2. Anonymous Natalia Says:

    Hm. I consider myself liberal, but my gut-reaction is always to punch back at people when they come after me. But then again, I force myself to have a glass of water and think about ways of outwitting them first.

  3. Blogger Pastor_Jeff Says:

    Well, there's conservative and conservative. Your response to 9-11 sounds pretty Goldwater-ish to me (or Truman-like -- take your pick).

    Anyway, disenchanted with Bush /= not conservative.

  4. Blogger Cantankerous Bitch Says:

    Just $.02: Not all liberals are pacifists. And, taking an anti-war position doesn't necessarily mean one is anti-ALL-war. There are lots and lots of hawkish Dems that fall into the latter group; most of them, I think it can be argued.

    Great post, Michael. And Amba's right -- great closing line.

  5. Blogger Dyre42 Says:

    Great post and for similiar reasons I'll never be a part of the liberal base as I've always believed in making an example of those who struck me and I'll never be a true Republican as I have always viewed violence and money as being a means to an end rather than an idealogical principle.

  6. Blogger amba Says:

    The New York Times agrees with you:

    The time when we felt drawn together, changed by the shock of what had occurred, lasted long beyond the funerals, ceremonies and promises never to forget. It was a time when the nation was waiting to find out what it was supposed to do, to be called to the task that would give special lasting meaning to the tragedy that it had endured.

    But the call never came. Without ever having asked to be exempt from the demands of this new post-9/11 war, we were cut out. Everything would be paid for with the blood of other people’s children, and with money earned by the next generation. Our role appeared to be confined to waiting in longer lines at the airport. President Bush, searching the other day for an example of post-9/11 sacrifice, pointed out that everybody pays taxes.

    That pinched view of our responsibility as citizens got us tax cuts we didn’t need and an invasion that never would have occurred if every voter’s sons and daughters were eligible for the draft. With no call to work together on some effort greater than ourselves, we were free to relapse into a self- centeredness that became a second national tragedy. We have spent the last few years fighting each other with more avidity than we fight the enemy.

    When we measure the possibilities created by 9/11 against what we have actually accomplished, it is clear that we have found one way after another to compound the tragedy.

  7. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    Amba:
    They totally plagiarize me.

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