- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2010

In search of some populist bona fides, President Obama discovered “common sense” in the State of the Union speech. Perhaps that explains why - more than two months after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s decision to hold the terror trials in New York City and one month after the crotch bomber failed - the administration now thinks Mr. Holder’s plan might be a bad idea.

Two months of unacknowledged letters, phone calls, protests and suffering for many New Yorkers, and Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer decides to listen.

Two months late, those who hold our safety in their hands realize that having a community hunkered down behind barricades, with sharpshooters positioned on rooftops - and the rest of the city on high alert - might not contribute to the sanity, let alone security, of those of us already deeply scarred from that day.

Maybe we can’t blame them when so many liberal male pundits, persuaded that they spoke for all New Yorkers, chose the Holder decision to hoist Republicans on the petard of their presumed national security machismo. Charles M. Blow proclaimed in the New York Times that this trial would barely “move the needle” in terms of the ongoing terror threat. He postured: “The fear tactics that work in the hinterlands won’t work here.” Would that be the hinterlands from which - in all of America’s wars - most of our servicemen and -women hailed? But, by all means, my fellow Democrats should continue to be contemptuous of the “hinterlands.”

Michael Winship of Bill Moyers’ Journal asserted that “New York is tough enough” for the terror trials and warned that New Yorkers don’t like being told what to do by those fear-mongering Republicans. But apparently we should be supine before Mr. Winship’s instruction.

Here in Washington, The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson admonished that in the war of ideas, a terrorist trial in New York City would disrupt the “jihadist narrative.” (Yes, indeed, that’s a spoonful of medicine for terror.) Fired up, he taunted with a George W. Bushism: “Bring it on” (a taunt to terrorists for which this New Yorker was endlessly grateful).

Like many other New Yorkers on Sept. 11, I don’t have a “narrative,” just bits and pieces: images, stories, a scream over a phone line before it went dead, and the paper - scraps of paper pulled from my Brooklyn fire escape. Before the people came (or didn’t come) home, the paper and ash came. I didn’t understand it and still don’t: the velocity and endurance of escaped papers. I folded those scraps carefully into a small box, imagining they carried the knowledge I lacked.

Who among the faces that peopled my days at the World Financial Center survived? The toddlers in the day care center at the base of one of the towers, the elderly black cobbler, the French florist, the security guards and elevator attendants, the bankers, traders, tourists? Oddly, I clung to some small hope that the palm trees in the Winter Garden might come through the storm. They didn’t. I never went back.

But let’s remember Mr. Holder’s admonishment to us (I certainly intend to in 2010): “We need not cower.” No, we need to run. Run! Run! Run! Fleeing carnage is not about bravery or being tough enough; there is only fear and luck, good or bad.

And, of course, the mighty hearts of those who didn’t flee, who wouldn’t flee: our firefighters, who stormed the maw of madness and did not return.

But, without ever asking any of us, Mr. Holder pronounced “our people are ready.” A minimal due diligence, a minimal regard for the safety of the untough in New York City (the children, the elderly, the infirm) should have necessitated at least one consultation with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. That never happened. So much for common sense, so much for “I am not an ideologue.”

While Mr. Robinson considered jihadists open-minded enough to have their “narrative” disrupted (really, Mr. Robinson?), until Scott Brown’s victory, that wasn’t looking feasible for liberal Democrats. Here’s hoping that Sen. Brown is the person upon whom those of us with a preference for common sense over ideological fervor can count. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is one narrative that this decamping Democrat would like to see make a come back.

Joan Chevalier is a speechwriter on Wall Street.

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