September 11, 2003, was a beautiful late-summer day in New York — just as it was two years ago. It’s an eerie juxtaposition. Those 3,000 people who were killed in the abominable terrorist attacks of 9/11 were folks who simply went to work to do their jobs. And yet it happened — the past cannot be changed. It is impossible to think about those events without a deep-rooted sense of sadness. Psychiatrists tell us that underneath sadness there is almost always a strong sense of anger and resentment. Anger is an especially bad emotion; it eats away at the insides and takes away from the calmness that is so necessary in life. Then there is a sense of foreboding about the future. No one in New York can entirely escape the fear that another shoe will drop.
This is how I feel — how many of us feel. And yet, the usual chorus of pessimists and critics of President Bush’s resolute wartime policies prey upon this fear. Instead of closure, they seek to reopen the emotional wounds. Unbelievable.
Democrats on the presidential campaign trail ask whether people feel safer now after Afghanistan and Iraq than they did two years ago. It’s a viscerally stupid question and a politically mischievous one — no one can feel entirely safe in the aftermath of 9/11. Polling data show clearly that the Democrats are digging a political grave for themselves with this question. Pollster Stan Greenberg — an ex-Clinton strategist — finds that a strong 61 percent to 26 percent majority feels safer now than right after 9/11.
But above politics, the much bigger question for this nation is whether faith will triumph over fear. Fear and negativism are just as debilitating for individuals as for nations. Fear is the Devil’s work, faith is the Lord’s.
While our government is taking action to slay the terrorist networks on their home turf before they can strike on our soil again, all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, go about our daily lives, maintain our faith that things will get much better rather than worse, and keep an optimistic viewpoint about life.
Optimism has always been the heart and soul of America. And there is no leader in recent times who spoke to that optimism more than Ronald Reagan. It is worth pausing a moment to recall the Gipper’s great faith and optimism in our country.
Lou Cannon, in his new book Governor Reagan, talks about the former president’s vision of America’s mission in the world. He quotes from a speech given in Fulton, Missouri, in June 1952, when Reagan said, “I, in my own mind, have thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land.” Cannon writes that Reagan’s speeches throughout his political career described a divine purpose for America, emphasizing the duty of Americans to recognize the special nature of their national mission.
Political scientist Hugh Heclo has written that Reagan held a “sacramental vision of America.” Sacramental because Reagan saw America as something sacred. Heclo deconstructs three parts of this vision. First, Heclo quotes Reagan, “God has chosen America as the agent of his special purposes in history.” Second, America is, in Reagan’s words, a “rescuing, redeemer nation.” Third, Reagan believed in the immortality of America, one that broke the historical pattern where great nations in the past would rise, grow, climb, and fall.
Of course, former President Reagan frequently said that America is the “last best hope of man on earth,” and that America has a “pre-ordained destiny to show all mankind that they too can be free.” When I think of these words I get calmer and my anger begins to recede. The sadness of 9/11 gives way to a sense of mission and purpose: Whatever I can do to help our war effort, I will do.
My sense of calm is bolstered by the recognition that America has recovered significantly over the past two years in both military and economic terms. We have unhorsed the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddamism in Iraq. While Osama and Saddam may still be alive, U.S. forces have either killed or captured nearly all of their top henchmen.
With God’s help, we have not yet suffered any new attacks here at home. Business and the stock market are on the mend. There is no question in my mind that America will triumph in the noble cause of crushing terrorism, just as we defeated communism and fascism. Nor do I have any question about American exceptionalism and our mission in the world.
Like Reagan, I choose the path of faith and optimism. Just as the man I once worked for said many times, there is no doubt that “America’s best days are yet to come.”
— Mr. Kudlow is CEO of Kudlow & Co.