Amidst the terror, we're turning back to the attitudes which made America great.
12:01 AM, Oct 5, 2001 • By DAVID BROOKS
DOES ANYBODY BUT ME feel upbeat, and guilty about it? I feel upbeat because the country seems to be a better place than it was a month ago. I feel guilty about it because I should be feeling pain and horror and anger about the recent events. But there's so much to cheer one up.
In the first place, there are flags everywhere. There are even indications that the most reactionary liberals amongst us are capable of change. For example, a year ago, Bruce Springsteen wrote a song called "41 Shots" in which he depicted New York policemen as racist, gun-mad goons. But there he was on that TV tribute to heroes celebrating those same cops. Then there was a dinner I attended a week or so ago with a bunch of liberal literati. This was a group that would normally be expected to genuflect reverentially at every gesture from Susan Sontag. But all of them were contemptuous of Sontag's sour essay in the New Yorker, in which she condemned what she depicted as the crude moralism of America's response to the September 11 attacks.
All of us on the right have been enjoying the spectacle of liberals one after another--from Michael Moore to Edward Said--making fools of themselves over this. But I'm struck by the fact that a gulf is opening between these left-wing loons and normal liberals and Democrats, who so far have remained hawkish and unabashedly patriotic.
The Pew Research Center did a poll on how America should respond to the attacks. A solid majority (57 percent) believe that it is more important to take military action to stop future attacks than it is to build up America's homeland defenses. More people are afraid we will act too slowly than too quickly. Nearly 90 percent of Republicans feel confident that U.S. forces can win the war on terror, and a full 70 percent of Democrats feel confident the United States can succeed with military action.
We know America is getting better because Thursday's USA Today had a story in its business section on how people are changing their priorities. They are less interested in things like money and career and more interested in things like family, heart, God, and health. A month ago, I would have reacted to this story with a dose of cynicism. But what can I say? I'm getting better too.
Yankelovich is a market research firm that does massive values surveys so that companies know which buttons to push with their advertising. The Yankelovich president, J. Walker Smith, just issued a study saying that the events of September 11 have accelerated attitudinal shifts he's been seeing for the past year or so. Fifty percent of baby boomers now say they are thinking of slowing down the pace of their lives. More than four in ten now say they'd rather be restful and bored than busy and stressed out. A year ago, only 25 percent of respondents agreed with that. Meanwhile, the number of Gen-X women who say that a career is not as rewarding as they thought it would be is up to 54 percent, from 41 percent just three years ago.
There's been a sharp jump in the number of people who think the country is headed in the right direction. There's been a stunning jump in the percentage of people who say they trust government to solve problems. We conservatives are supposed to be distressed by trust in government, but I've never been able to see what's so wonderful about the corrosive cynicism that pervaded American talk about politics. The primary problem these days is terrorism. It's nice that people have faith in their institutions to tackle it.
To me this whole event has been like a national Sabbath, stripping away the hurly-burly of normal life and reminding people of nation, faith, and ideals. Amidst all the grief, I'm so heartened I actually think this American response will last awhile.
David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.