Monday, September 13, 2010


By Barry Rithholtz

Each year, I try to avoid writing anything about 9/11. But I had some issues to work through this year, and I find jotting a few notes down helps me.

My personal experience on 9/11 was secondhand. I was in the LI office of the firm where I was Market Strategist. Our HQ and trading desk was in 2 WTC. As events unfolded, I got my head trader on the phone, and he gave me a full play by play of what occurred in real time for about 2 hours. I put all that down on paper, and with his approval, published it the next day: A Personal Recollection From a Day of Horror (September 12th, 2001).

Its actually Bill’s story, I was merely the scribe. I know the day left its mark on him, and he has struggled with what I can’t even imagine.
Even today, nearly a decade later, I find the entire retrospective “event” that occurs each year to be maudlin: The roll call of lost colleagues and friends; the tragedy porn that the media rolls out; I especially detest terror tourism down at the WTC site. The whole thing makes me more angry than sad.
But as a life long New Yorker, I am still frustrated over how the 9/11 event was mishandled — the ignored warnings, the invasion of the wrong country after, the bastardization of what the USA stands for, the lack of accountability for all these major errors of incalculable incompetency. The response was so far beneath what this nation is truly capable of that is still greatly saddens me, even today.
To release those demons, I wrote this on Election Eve 2004:

On September 11th, George W. Bush was presented one of those rare and horrible historical moments. The terrorist attacks united the country and the world around the President: His approval rating skyrocketed to 90%. Even the French Prime Minister announced, “Tonight, we are all Americans.”

The historical opportunity was laid at the feet of the President. With a unified country behind him and a sympathetic world willing to cooperate with him in just about every imaginable way, he could have achieved monumental greatness: He could have asked for great sacrifices from the populace, and they would have willingly made them. At that moment, any reach across the aisle would have been fruitful on a number of vexing issues. A bipartisan approach to any political problem at home – cutting pork out of domestic policies, reforming Social Security, renovating the tax code – could have been accomplished in a bipartisan spirit of strengthening the economy and defending the country. He might have even done something about our education system so, in truth, no child would be left behind.

One would imagine that a man elected under what can be charitably described as “inauspicious circumstances” – with nary a mandate in sight – might have taken the 9/11 tragedy as an opportunity to move to the center, putting aside partisan political differences, and governing “all the people.” To be, in fact, truly a “uniter,” not a “divider.”

Alas, it was not to be.

When people ask why I dislike the presidency of George W. Bush, it was that colossal failure to rise to greatness on that occasion, and indeed, to engage in a series of decisions that — not in retrospect, but at the time — reflected terribly poor judgment.

Unlike many others, I only blame W in small part for ignoring the warning pre-9/11. there were lots of false positive warnings, so claiming he should have recognized how serious that one was is much easier to do in hindsight.

But for the catastrophic series of decisions that he made following 9/11, I hold him 100% accountable.

This is not about partisanship — its about recognizing a terrible tragedy that was compounded through bad judgment and even worse governing.

Indeed, my feelings about 9/11 have morphed from sadness over the tragic loss of loved ones into frustration and beyond. Even now, the anger rises over the unwillingness to hold the past administration accountable for their many sins.

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