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David Paine

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The Politicization of 9/11

Posted: 09/10/09 08:52 PM ET

I finally understand what it really means when people say "no good deed goes unpunished."

About seven years ago, the 9/11 community came together to support the wonderful idea that the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on America ought to become a federally-observed, national day of service and remembrance, rather than become just another day on the calendar. Most would say it was a no-brainer.

I guess not.

This past August, a few months after the 9/11 community finally secured passage of bipartisan legislation that established 9/11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, a writer for the American Spectator published an article entitled "Obama's Plan to Desecrate 9/11."

The opening sentence read this way:

The Obama White House is behind a cynical, coldly calculated political effort to erase the meaning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks from the American psyche and convert Sept. 11 into a day of leftist celebration and statist idolatry.

An awful lot of people who read that article concluded that the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance was hatched by President Obama, not the 9/11 families at all, and furthermore, that our group, MyGoodDeed, was a front for "pinko commies." In an instant, what we had spent years building from scratch with the help of conservatives and liberals alike, not to mention very senior members of the Bush Administration, was transformed into a leftist political conspiracy to trick Americans into supporting President Obama's socialist agenda. Holy crap!

Not being one that reads the political media all that much -- I prefer the sports pages -- I had no idea what was about to happen next. First, a bunch of other blogs picked it up. And then Fox News got ahold of it. I'm sitting at home with a pizza watching TV one night, and all of a sudden there's Laura Ingraham blasting us for cavorting with guys like Van Jones and some other "commie" guy I never met or talked to in my life. What the heck?

Then our website, meant to be a peaceful place for well-meaning people to post their good deeds for the day and other service projects in tribute to the 9/11 victims, starts getting hammered with pretty scary comments from more than a few angry conservatives... things like:

"You BASTARDS. How Dare You!"

"This is so disrespectful to the thousands of people who died on September 11th. How dare you try to co-op 9/11 from a National Day of Mourning to some cheesy Obamabot service day."

Up until that point, most of the posts were things like, "The Boys & Girls Clubs of Augusta will make cards of appreciation for the local veterans and distribute them on September 11th," and "I will be displaying two flags containing the names of the civilians that died on 911 along with the names of the firefighters and rescue workers..." Wow!

Now everyone is entitled to their opinion -- this is a free country. And we don't mind it if some people think that establishing 9/11 as a day of service and remembrance is the worst idea in the world. Although our view is that the 9/11 families themselves ought to be able to decide what the observance should be, people certainly can disagree. That's what makes America great.

But more was going on here than that. The real problem was that 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance had become somebody's political ammo, in this case aimed at the Obama Administration. I felt a little like I'd walked into convenience store in the middle of a freakin' hold-up.

Apparently, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I talked to the writer later and he explained what he was trying to do -- bring to light information that he said indicated that the president was orchestrating a plan to manipulate 9/11 for political gain. (We've been there before, BTW.) Later, in a subsequent post, he clarified his position and provided excellent and accurate information on our group and the 9/11 family origins of the observance, which thankfully stopped some of the more vociferous attacks.

But I sure learned that it's not a good thing to get into anyone's political cross-hairs these days.

Which is exactly why this observance is so important and right.

The whole idea is to encourage all of America to remember the way we were immediately after the attacks -- we weren't red states or blue states. We were Americans, and we were powerful. Because we were unified. Today, we are anything but. Ordinary citizens who might find themselves sharing coleslaw at a weekend BBQ are throwing punches at one another in the middle of town hall meetings on health care reform. Geez!

I'm not saying there aren't serious issues at hand. And people are going to disagree. But if 9/11 taught us anything, it was that we need to remember that we have so much more in common as human beings than we have differences. We have to find ways to debate our views, and solve our problems with the 9/11 spirit of unity in mind.

For the record, the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance is widely backed by the Left, Middle and Right and is not, in any way, a government led or funded initiative created by President Obama or any government agency. It was started by the 9/11 community eager to leave a lasting and positive legacy honoring their lost loved ones, and is supported by respected nonprofits such as the Points of Light Institute, founded with the help of former President George Bush Sr., AARP, America's Promise Alliance, City Year, ServiceNation, and many other wonderful and nonpartisan groups listed on our Web site at 911dayofservice.org.

Lest we all forget, almost eight years ago, 2,974 people were murdered. Forty percent of the families of these victims never recovered any remains. Nothing. They buried empty caskets. Since then, nearly 800 first responders who raced to the scene have died -- 27 percent from cancer. Thirty-one of the 800 committed suicide.

Needless to say, 9/11 is not a day that should ever be politicized or used to flame the fires of partisanship. Not by The American Spectator or Fox News. Or by supporters of the Obama Administration or MSNBC. It must always be a day of unity, patriotism, and reflection, along with remembrance. And yes, if a person chooses to do so, voluntary service as well. Let's honor the 9/11 heroes by putting the boxing gloves away, at least for one day.