You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 10:35 a.m.

U.S. must find ways to use tragedy from the past to build a better future

By Tom Watkins


AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The first debate is over and we are only a month away from electing our president. When the election is over we need to come together as a country.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, or the 9/11 Report, begins: “At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001 The United States became a nation transformed.” Yet have we been transformed as a country in a better way? “Never Forget,” usually are the words that follow stories about 9/11 — never forget the people, innocents and the first responders who died that heart-stopping day. There is perhaps no greater U.S. tragedy in these modern times than the series of terrorist acts and resulting deaths and emotional scars from September 11, 2001. Few, if any, will forget where they were that horrible day — the cascading feelings of disbelief, anger, and sadness that engulfed the nation when the world seemed to stand still. The 11th anniversary of 9/11 has passed while many people in our country paused to reflect on that day and the loss of life that surpassed the death toll at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Many communities honored the sacrifice and heroism of the average citizens as well as first-responders who helped and those who died and were injured on that fateful day. We must never forget the fear, anger, apprehension, and sadness that swept the nation, nor the dead, and the emotionally scarred individuals and families who were personally touched on 9/11. We must also remember the tentacles of that ugly day stretched into the future and even today impact service people and their families in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Reflecting back on that time, I sensed the potential to galvanize the country around a shared vision and common agenda as emotions coalesced into nationalistic pride and patriotism — we were united against a common enemy and for a while the nation seemed as one. This sense of purpose and nationalistic pride was reminiscent of what I had learned in grade school textbooks about our country rallying after the only other attack on American soil by a foreign enemy — the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I recall Congress, Democrats and Republicans joining hands on the U.S. Capitol steps, the same steps I played on as a child growing up in the shadows of our nation’s capitol in Washington DC. I recall anger giving way to swelling national pride — a pride that made Americans rally together, not a country of red States and blue States, but the UNITED STATES of America. General Motors captured the day by encouraging consumers to spend again offering the “Keep America-Rolling” campaign to reboot the economy. Ford soon followed suit as they both tried to re-energize the economy with 0 percent interest loans on new car purchases. As important as this initiative economically was, it hardly was the rallying cry the nation needed to hear at this time of grief. Looking back, I believe our national leaders squandered the opportunity to reboot our nation — not just to do what the country singer Toby Keith sang, “ To put a boot in their ass — it is the American way,” but to come together as one, committed to something bigger than ourselves. We missed an FDR or JFK moment to ask our citizens to come together with pride where our collective energy and will would be more powerful than the sum of its parts. This would have been a perfect time to implement a national services initiative where every citizen was expected to provide a year of service to the country in the Armed Services, AmeriCorp or a similar civic service to our country. Instead, the country embarked on a borrowing spree from the Chinese to underwrite our national debt even as we cut taxes, increased entitlements, lost our top credit rating, started two wars (one using trumped-up military intelligence) that continue to drain our national treasury to this day. Even as the Great Recession of 2008 fades with each passing year, the body count continues to rise for the thousands of women and men in uniform who paid the ultimate price, fighting for our “freedom” in two wars. What sacrifices have we made as a nation — beyond those losing a son, daughter, grandchild, or other family member in the military? Clearly many of us on Main Street continue to get the shaft as policy decisions made in Washington, D.C. ran our country into a ditch while their Wall Street friends and bankers got the gold mine. Yet, this hardly compares to the thousands of dead and countless lives and families lying in ruins. We now have a politically polarized country that views “compromise” as a dirty word and castigates the political opposition as the enemy. As a country, today it seems we are heading, not unlike Thelma and Louise, over a fiscal cliff without much hope that we will pull together as a nation to get this country working again. In a few short weeks, voters will decide if President Barack Obama or Governor Mitt Romney will lead our nation going forward. I ask, and the country should demand, that whoever is elected rapidly move to bring us all together in a shared vision. Sacrifice is inevitable in developing an action agenda that honors the lives and sacrifice of all who have died or are physically and emotionally wounded along with their families since 9/11. We should never forget — but we MUST use this tragic remembrance of eleven years ago to help build a more perfect union. To do anything less is unacceptable. Tom Watkins has been a participant observer in the political/public policy arena for over 30 years. He served the citizens of Michigan as the former state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. He can be reached at


Top Cat

Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Time to bring our legions home and focus on creating long term prosperity. We can create good paying jobs by developing all the energy we need and making the goods we consume. A secure, prosperous and free America is a goal we all can share.


Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

The problem is no longer who the President is. The problem is the volume of people who would vote for one person or another. With 30% of the nation now dependent on the Federal government for assistance of some sort, they are just like drug users: only thinking about themselves, not the immediate or long term damage they are doing to our country. Even now, job 'numbers' are being spouted as a measure of success or failure. The error is that the product of job numbers times their income is not being scored. As a result of policies, the middle class formerly could support a car or two, a house(home) and a University education for their childred. Now they have jobs, but their income is 1/2 of the former value because of forced retirement or taking a large income cut. We can't support the welfare economy with this resultant.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

Yeah cibachrome, we call them "public employees" and they and their unions are a drain on society. Proposition 2, if it passes, will be the absolute "nail in the coffin" for Michigan will become the public employee welfare state run by public unions. Kiss your vote goodbye and watch your taxes increase several fold while government services virtually dissapear. Vote no on 2.

Silly Sally

Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

What you are saying is that people working at part time jobs, or college grads flipping hamburgers, while employed, would not count as much as if they were full time or working in a higher paying job. Good point.


Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

As long as greedy politicians continue to spout lies and pad their own pockets courtesy of my wallet for the likes of Soros and the rest of the " global elete " ..compromise is just that, a word..when our leaders , and I use that word very very loosely, can act like they believe in a real America made up of of country , and love of god, and the wisdom of our forefathers and not the socialist " nanny " state they are trying to shove down our throats, maybe then you might find a hint of compromise ..In the meantime the few politicans that do believe in those values will, with the blessing of real americans , continue to carry on the fight against those who don't


Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 5:24 p.m.

Tom, does the word "paragraph" occur to you when writing? Apologies if the format is due to I would read your article if it were broken up some.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 2:32 a.m.

Get the "what" rather than the "how" Mick....If you don't read it don't comment on it.


Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

Why come together now? Maybe President Obama is truly a polarizing President?

Unusual Suspect

Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.



Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

"We now have a politically polarized country that views "compromise" as a dirty word and castigates the political opposition as the enemy. As a country, today it seems we are heading, not unlike Thelma and Louise, over a fiscal cliff without much hope that we will pull together as a nation to get this country working again" There are some things that cannot be compromised; fiscal sanity is one of them. This country is not ready to feel some pain from the cuts that have to come. So we put it off not wanting to anger our electorate and when it finally happens (and it will) because of inaction of congress there will be riots in the streets. The president has laid the ground work of class warfare, the war on women, racial discourse, and supporting those who have been our enemies in the past while turning his back on our allies. This is the course we are on. That is his idea of outreach. There are many who feel this is a good course, I do not share that feeling. When having to defend his positions in a debate and having to answer for his claims he did not do so well. I don't know how to get this country back together and was hoping that President Obama was going to unite us, not divide us further. I have never seen the country so divided and have never felt so strongly that in order to survive it will take conservative principles to do so. But with half the country wanting to continue on the road to financial armageddon it doesn't look good.

Bill Wilson

Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Mike, It's not quite as black/white as you would claim. Obama's health care for the poor should not be changed. I'm a conservative who is self-employed and pays his taxes. No one gives me any breaks... I buy my own health care insurance. Yet, most people in this country get their health care insurance through their corporation, who are given tax breaks and cuts to help fund it: corporate welfare. Frankly Mike, I'm tired of supporting those of you feeding off of my tax dollars. You want health care and cannot afford it? Do the very thing you tell the poor to do: get a second job! If health care for the poor is eliminated, we should bring out the broom and take away the corporate tax cuts that fund most health care. Oh, and save the "they deduct money from our paychecks, so we are paying..." nonsense. You pay a very small portion only. You want to make these claims Mike... lets go all the way with them.


Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

Tom - Bush was fiscally irresponsible in his last term. You won't find me being one of his cheerleaders. So, are you defending that it's not time for a change because Bush was fiscally irresponsible like our current president or what?

Superior Twp voter

Mon, Oct 8, 2012 : 2 a.m.

Mike, Very well-said commentary. Very well thought out. Thank you.


Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 11:33 p.m.

Mike, Excellent ! I could not have said it any better. Good Day

Tom Todd

Sun, Oct 7, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

George Bush was a so called conservative so Yea not buying the conservative approach at all rich/banks/tax cuts/loopholes/gas prices/wars/etc. sorry thanks to the rich and powerful this super hybrid capitalism supports the rich only.I Work/hard. sorry the country is about fall off the cliff. If Romney is elected what will it be two months before he starts war with IRAN?