Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ground Zero as Rebuke

Tomorrow there will be a ceremony at ground zero to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It’s been ten years. We still call it “ground zero” because there’s nothing there. Ten years, and nothing. Thirteen square blocks of the most valuable real estate in the country, and nothing has risen from that ground. Tomorrow the podium will be filled with politicians and bureaucrats. Mayor Bloomberg will be there. The Deputy Executive Director of Progressive Community Zoning will be there along with a hundred others just like him, leaving no room for the firemen. Just not enough room to include any firemen on the platform. There will be lots of important politicians there with lots of grave and profound speeches to make, but no firemen. 343 of them died on that day because they trudged into those buildings weighed down with 70 pounds of gear in the vain hope that they might save a few. While everyone else was fleeing in horrified panic, the firemen took the stairs up. But no room for the firemen tomorrow.

Ten years later, I don’t care about the terrorists. Al-Qaeda and global jihad are abstractions to me. I don’t even know what to make of the ten year war on terror. Reasonable people disagree about all of that, and maybe in another ten years I’ll have a clearer understanding of how to think about it all. But there is one thing about which I’m sure and confident. The empty hole in the ground at the corner Church Street and Broadway, right down the street from the New York Stock Exchange, stands as a mocking indictment of the United States of America and what we have become. Our ancestors would not recognize us, not just the founders, but even those from 80 years ago.

In the midst of the Great Depression, a heartier band of Americans took all of 410 days to construct the Empire State building. 27 months from architectural design to ribbon cutting ceremony, during the worst economic hour of our nation’s existence, the tallest building in the world rose in the middle of Manhattan. Today it would take 27 months just to get an appointment with the Deputy Executive Director of Progressive Community Zoning. The Hoover Dam, the most audacious hydro-electric project in human history took four years to build. The Golden gate bridge, four years to build. Can you imagine how long the environmental impact studies would take today for such projects? I’m guessing about four years. Then there would be the “competitive wage impact studies” that would add another couple of years and hundreds of millions to the price tag. Next, teams of lawyers would descend on the thing, extorting millions more. Eventually, the project would die, politicians would give speeches decrying the lack of jobs, and we would be left with a mocking hole in the ground.

This country once stood as a land of great possibility. This was the place where stuff got done. A man or woman with a dream, a capacity for hard work, and high gloss toughness could accomplish great things. That country is no more. It has been replaced by a nation that has tied itself in great central planning knots. The entrepreneurial spirit has been extinguished by crony capitalism. Lawyers and community organizers have taken over, and now there’s a thirteen square block rebuke where the Twin Towers used to be. That’s not the work of terrorists. Behold what timidity has wrought.