9/11 as Local Political Theater?

I have been summoned to a meeting of the Select Board in my sleepy little Western Mass suburb to weigh in on a proposal to hold a town sponsored 10th anniversary commemoration of the 9/11 tragedy. The problem, according to the town leader who summoned me, is that the organizers of the event are all members of the Republican Town Committee who have apparently planned the event with a transparently partisan motive and list of dignitaries.

I have never been one to quibble about political motives on the assumption that they are always present and are not prima facie evidence for the denial of public sponsorship. I successfully challenged Organizers of an annual festival on the Town Green who tried to exclude “political” exhibitors and signage on the theory that a town festival over the Memorial Day weekend was no place for politics. Indeed, the decisions that led to the deaths of America’s military heroes are and will always be political, to say nothing of the fact that our “politics” and the “way of life” of which they all understood themselves as defenders are inseparable.

Given my general attitude on this, I expect my position on the proposed 9/11 commemoration to be welcoming of “politics.” Of course, what this means is welcoming of “the conflict for influence” that is politics, not the uncontested celebration and/or apparent official condoning of only one of the political perspectives in conflict. If members of the community, regardless of party, would like our remembrance to be MORE than communal mourning; if they want it to have a contemplative and intellectually stimulating impact, then I would heartily endorse the inclusion of conflicting view points on the meaning and implications of this epochal tragedy.

If, on the other hand, the organizers are hopeful for an opportunity to use the tragedy to impart an uncontested political interpretation of 9/11, then I must oppose public sponsorship of the event until it is modified in ways that insulate the town from association with a narrow partisan view point.

Given the results of recent research, which I’ve highlighted elsewhere, in which patriotic imagery as simple as the American flag itself has been shown to encourage people to adopt more conservative political outlooks, it seems to me that the town’s Republican committee need not try to stack the deck or exclude other view points at such an affair. They may well have an inescapable advantage in this type of thing. If this is so, I would encourage my Democratic brethren to acquiesce to it and not to find fault with publicly sponsored patriotism unless the partisan content is both clear and unchallenged.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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