Kathleen Parker

Color me a September 11 American. That is, one for whom life changed two years ago.

As opposed to a September 10 American, described by Lawrence F. Kaplan in The Wall Street Journal as one who has returned more or less to life and issues as they were before the terrorist attacks.

It's hard to imagine how anyone younger than 2 could be a September 10 American, but apparently they are plentiful. Kaplan based his definitions on polls and data collected since 9-11, which show, for example, that fewer Americans are flying flags and praying than immediately after 9-11.

Fewer Americans also profess a willingness to fight and die for their country.

Most important, fewer Americans name terrorism as their greatest concern, as more lean toward domestic issues such as employment, health care and prescription drugs.

Suddenly, getting back to normal doesn't seem such a prudent idea. Meanwhile, it's hard not to notice that this shift in attitudes feels mostly political.

Consider a Pew study cited by Kaplan that asked whether Bush should focus on terrorism or the economy. Those expressing greatest concern with the continuing war against terror included whites, evangelical Christians, rural residents, Southerners and conservatives.

Those expressing less concern were secular Americans, African-Americans, urban dwellers, non-Southerners or liberals. All of which sounds like Election 2000 all over again. Those same demographics might as easily have been identified as supporting Bush or Gore.

In other words, it's politics as usual - when life is anything but usual.

So we have been reminded the past several days by reruns of Sept. 11 footage and memorial services at Ground Zero and Arlington Cemetery.

Of all who spoke Thursday, none was more poignant, statesmanlike or appropriately muted than Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Clinching his jaw and sniffling (a cold, perhaps, or not), Rumsfeld spoke with world-weary sadness.

He reminded us that America is the "light of liberty and the hope of the world."

He quoted Thomas Paine, who said that America will "make a stand not for itself alone, but for the world." All of it true.

By stark comparison to Rumsfeld, the cacophony of naysayers sound like trivializing children. The hecklers who unfurled a protest banner and shrieked, "You're fired" at Rumsfeld as he spoke at the National Press Club Wednesday put me in mind of less attractive versions of Wormtongue in "The Two Towers," hissing "warmongers."

Oh, where is a roll of duct tape when you need it. Or better yet, Gandalf's staff.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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