How 9/11 Disrupted Rhetoric

Obviously, the attacks on 9/11/00 disrupted more significant things than rhetoric, but as politics and rhetoric are our focus here, I wanted to refer readers to a site called the Daily Howler and its reaction to Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to Bill Clinton’s indirect response to the attacks about one year after they occurred:


The short version is that about a year after the attacks, Clinton spoke to students at Georgetown, and his purpose was, obviously (according to the text of the lecture), not to excuse the attacks but to put them in a broader context and to suggest ways of responding to them. No need to agree with what Clinton advised, but it’s an interesting, subtle presentation.

Sullivan attacked Clinton for somehow excusing the attacks and then had to retract the criticism (sort of) and to apologize (not really) because he hadn’t actually read the text of Clinton’s remarks.

The Daily Howler criticized Sullivan harshly for criticizing Clinton unfairly.

Fast-forward about 9 years, and Sullivan is now one of the most persistent, strident critics of Bush and Cheney, their lying, and their support of torture, and by contrast, Clinton’s lecture seems innocuous.

–All of which is to be reminded the degree to which that rhetoric depends on the situation, and that if the situation is beyond extraordinary, not much sober processing of language may be possible. Sullivan, a very smart man and excellent writer (by Orwell’s standards and others’), over-reacted to a sagacious if imperfect lecture by Clinton, and the Daily Howler probably over-reacted to Sullivan’ over-reaction. It all took me back to those days, when some people’s entire worldviews (including politics) changed forever, in some cases irrationally, it seemed: one effect of a terrorist attack.


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