The Way We Were

And what were you doing prior to 9-11?


Anyone saying on September 10th, 2001, that the United States would be at war the next day would have been dismissed as a lunatic. Certainly there were wars of words being fought just as always, both internal and external. Americans are a contentious and argumentative lot, picking verbal fights with each other over all sorts of odd things. But the blood drawn is usually figurative.

The year had started with power shortages in California, leading to rolling blackouts. It had been amusing for the rest of the nation to watch slippery Gov. Gray Davis twisting in the wind as he tried to solve the problem without actually doing anything that would offend one of his core constituencies. By the time the problem had solved itself with a market readjustment he had

  • indebted his state for billions of dollars worth of long-term, high-price power;
  • done his best to blame the problems on Texas energy companies;
  • driven two formerly stable California utilities into bankruptcy;
  • provided jobs for two high-priced Democratic Party flacks paid for out of the public trough;
  • done his best to blame the problems on Washington and President George W. Bush;
  • and done nothing of substance to solve it.

We had spent a good part of the year arguing over tax cuts. Republicans were pushing for big cuts as an economic stimulus. Democrats were trying to insulate the upper income brackets from the cuts and to funnel the money to core Democrat constituencies. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had made a dramatic appearance at a press conference with a muffler – what the "working man" could afford with his share of the Republican tax cut – versus a Lexus – the spoils of the rich folks. The general reaction from Democratic constituencies was "Hey! I could use a new muffler! Gimme the check!" Somehow a compromise was worked out. Americans taxpayers got checks ranging up to $600 over the course of the summer in the expectation they would blow it on something frivolous and thereby ignite an economy that had been in the process of stalling out for the past year. Most people blew the money, and the economy remained stagnant.

Punctuating this were the shark attacks. Statistically, there are few people attacked by sharks each year. By some chance more attacks that are normal happened to clump in the course of the summer. A couple people at beaches were killed and a couple maimed. There was a minor panic and some solemn, concerned talking heads made their way onto television. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made some remarkably stupid statements to the effect that the killed and injured had deserved it for intruding on the territory of the sharks.

There were rumors that the Democrats, led by ex-President Bill Clinton’s crony Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliff, would be starting a political offensive against the Republicans. It was said that it would be a rehash of the "It’s the Economy, Stupid" slogan Clinton had used in his campaign against the elder George Bush. Senator Joseph Biden was being limbered up in the wings for a flanking assault on foreign policy. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert were shoring their policy defenses and readying their rhetorical counter-batteries.

But what really, really kept our attention all during the summer of ’01 was Rep. Gary Condit and the sordid Case of the Missing Mistress. There was the vanished Chandra Levy. There was the congressman’s other mistress Anne Marie Smith, and there were a few other mistresses who were never quite named. There were weeping parents and indignant lawyers. There was a hapless DC Police Department searching for clues in all the wrong places. There were front-page splashes with lurid revelations in The Globe and the National Enquirer. There were mysterious boxes dropped in trash cans far from the congressman’s apartment. There were ties to bikers, panicky phone calls from Luray, Virginia. There were red-faced recriminations among Democrats over too little or too much support for a man who became more unpleasant to more people with each passing day. And finally there was the self-detonation by Mr Condit on national television with Connie Chung. The summer was All Condit, All the Time. It was all great fun – except for Miss Levy and her family. The only thing missing was Inspector Camembert, the renowned international detective, and his assistant, le Gume, assembling the parties in the national billiard room and dramatically pinning the crime on

  • Michael Dayton, Condit's ruthless henchman or
  • Mrs. Condit, who was rumored at one point to have no thumbs or
  • the lovely and talented Anne Marie Smith, consumed with jealousy of a younger woman or
  • DC Police Chief Ramsey

Barely noticed in the USA, on September 9th, on the other side of the world in the Panjir Valley, Ahmed Shah Masood was assassinated. Two days later we were at war and the side shows were forgotten.