Brian Birdnow

Kathleen Parker is a proud member of a very select club. She is, in fact, a charter member of a cabal that might be called, for lack of a better term, “Self-Professed Conservatives For Obama”, and whose ranks include Colin Powell, Jeffrey Hart, Peggy Noonan, and Christopher Buckley, among other luminaries. Ms. Parker seems to enjoy positioning herself as a sort of conscience to the conservative movement, a Jiminy Cricket calling the right-wingers back to the sensible center and exhorting us to eschew confrontation and to heed the better angels of our nature. The current issue over which Kathleen Parker has worked herself into a lather is what she terms America’s “Legacy of Hysteria”, by which she means, of course, the USA in the Post-9/11 era.

In her syndicated Washington Post column last week, Ms. Parker used “Legacy of Hysteria”, along with a subtitle, “America, Heal Thyself” to assess the state of the union after September 11, 2001. She blames the supposedly hysterical American reaction to 9/11 for nearly all of our civic social ills, from our polarized politics, to our coming financial catastrophe, to the shallowness of our popular culture. According to Kathleen Parker each of these very real problems can be attributed to the hysterical American response to the 9/11 attacks. Ms. Parker spins an elaborate tale concerning the overwrought American response to the attacks that day, then moves on to reveal the true purpose of her column, which is to criticize the war on terror and the GOP response to the current unpleasantness, all the while lamenting the “…damage to America’s soul”. She finishes with a flourish, “America, Heal Thyself. Please.” Methinks that Kathleen Parker doth protest too much!

When considering the serious nature of this piece, one must begin with Ms. Parker’s contention that “…the roots of today’s political dysfunction- the hate, fear, anger and resentment-firmly planted in the soil at ground zero.” No one can accept this argument with a straight face. TH readers old enough to remember the 1980s will not soon forget the routine of slander, abuse, and character assassination directed by the left, as a matter of course, at Ronald Reagan. The fact that The Gipper shrugged all of this off with a smile and is today recognized as a superb President does not lesson the earnestness of the campaign waged in the hopes of vilifying him. Similarly, the Clinton Administration unleashed vitriol identical to that, which animates Washington today. The slapstick nature of the Clinton Presidency, with girls falling out of every closet, not to mention hiding under every bed, and petty criminality abounding in nearly every nook and cranny of the federal government, finally resulted in an unsuccessful impeachment of the Chief Executive. Regardless of whether readers supported the impeachment, or consider it unwarranted it certainly added fuel to the already incendiary political culture in Washington. Finally, the bitter and contentious 2000 election, complete with Democratic charges that the GOP stole the tilt, and the corresponding notion that George W. Bush represented political illegitimacy finished poisoning the American political waters. If American politics resemble those of the Third French Republic, it is only a reflection of where we have been since 1980, or possibly even since Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Kathleen Parker’s suggestion that this all began on September 11, 2001 is simply disingenuous.

Ms. Parker’s subsidiary contention that the nation’s looming financial train wreck is also a result of our “emotional breakdown” likewise fails to stand up to close examination. Our debt and entitlement crises are decades in the making. A casual observer need not agree with Governor Rick Perry’s recent characterization as a “Ponzi Scheme” to admit that the system, as it was structured, was sure to decline into insolvency as the Baby Boom generation aged and passed into retirement. Successive governments, both Democratic and Republican, have chosen to kick the can down the road, and politicians like ex-President George W. Bush who ventured to offer plans to head off the coming crash have suffered ridicule and censure for their efforts. Now the crisis is upon us, and Barack Obama is the hapless schmuck who will sink under this weight. Still, this crisis cannot be traced to September 11, 2001. It has its roots decades in the past, and Kathleen Parker knows this as a fact.

In the column, Ms. Parker implies that the cost of the war on terror is the straw that has broken the American financial camel’s back. Undoubtedly, the $1.3 trillion (and counting) cost of the war strains the economy and fans the flames of the deficit, but Kathleen Parker’s support of the man who wants to recklessly spend trillions more in failed Great Society programs illustrates the hollow character of her supposed concern for the budget-busting nature of the terror war. We may, indeed, be reaching the tipping point, but Obama wants more of what got us into this mess in the first place, and Kathleen Parker eagerly seconds his motion.

Our heroine then recommends psychiatric care for the nation as a whole. She declares, “Putting it bluntly, 9/11 caused us to go temporarily insane.” After making this stark and uncompromising statement she continues, “We seem not to recognize that we don’t have a problem. We are the problem.” (Italics hers, not mine) She then adds, “…the nation could use a little time on the couch.” After suggesting that America has lost her collective mind, she then mourns the fact that President Obama cannot lead us back to the Promised Land because he is too introspective and intellectual. He is no rousing politician of the William Jennings Bryan type but is, instead, “…reflective and cautious.” Astonishingly, Ms. Parker seems to argue that Obama is failing where Bush succeeded because Obama is too smart, and Bush was stupid enough to get the job done.

Here we arrive at Kathleen Parker’s real argument. She disagrees with the approach to the war on terror, and apparently presumes that the nation should have stuck with the three-pronged Clintonian strategy, consisting of:

a. Bury our heads in the sand

b. After the fact, insist that Islamic terrorism is a law enforcement problem

c. Finally, end the conversation by denying responsibility and changing the subject.

Ms. Parker changes the subject from Islamic terrorism when she bleats on about 9/11 as “All part of our damaged soul.”

It might come as a surprise to many Washington Post columnists, but many Americans do not agree that 9/11 permanently damaged our souls. On the contrary, we have proceeded with our lives as normally as it has been possible. We are, no doubt, more cautious and less carefree than before. We mourn those who died on that dreadful day, and our brave countrymen who have been killed in action. Yet, we press forward, rejoicing in our national triumphs and taking comfort and pleasure in our families, friends, homes, and lives.

Kathleen Parker, though, insists that we have all gone off the deep end. She avers that 9/11 was “…an ongoing, self-perpetuating act of American self-destruction.” This strained rhetoric is spoken by someone who seems to seek the approval of the Washington Post-New York Times axis a little too desperately. Kathleen, on behalf of all the “non-hysterical” folks out here in the heartland, we invite you to come back over and join our side. Those of us who do not feel as though we have suffered “…a sort of emotional breakdown…” would like to welcome you back to the real America, our common home.

P.S. Your humble TH correspondent personally knows two people who worked at the World Trade Center. Mercifully, they both survived that terrible September 11, 2001.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.