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Jewish World Review May 29, 2002 / 18 Sivan, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

When sameness of attitudes brings security | We keep hearing "everything is different" since Sept. 11. Is it? Have Americans really changed since that catastrophic day?

No, a host of public opinion polls continue to show. We talk more about religious values, but no, more Americans aren't going to church; no, more Americans aren't postponing divorce; no, most Americans aren't much more suspicious of foreigners, even those of Arab descent.

We're quite patriotic, just as (surprise?) we were before Sept. 11, and we're still skeptical of government in general, though like previous generations we support our government's war efforts, this time in the war against terrorism.

As Karlyn Bowman, a respected pollster at the American Enterprise Institute who has closely monitored polling results since Sept. 11 told me, we held solid patriotic values as Americans even before Sept. 11 (though pollsters were less likely to ask questions about patriotism), so partly it may be that that awful day just "reminded us that those values were pretty strong."

Immediately after the event, people were more fearful, more depressed, and yes for a short time they were even more likely to attend church. But now, Bowman explained, things have settled down and on issues across the board most Americans hold views and outlooks very similar to those they held before the infamous 9/11.

Her findings echo those discussed at the national convention of the American Association for Public Opinion Research held last weekend in Florida. There, Adam Clymer of the New York Times reports, speaker after speaker from opinion research firms from around the country said they saw little evidence "that the attacks of Sept. 11 had led to fundamental changes in American attitudes."

I don't think that's so bad.

There are folks on the Left and the Right who seem to want to see America shaken up a bit, and were perhaps hoping 9/11 would do it. The Left wants us to become more "generous," as if Americans aren't already the most generous people on the face of the earth, and more focused on the world, not the "trivialities" of ourselves and our families, as if the hijackers attacked us because they think we're too preoccupied with carpools and keeping our lawns green.

Meanwhile, some on the Right seem to hope that such a cataclysmic event would usher in a kind of religious or at least moral revival. But while I would certainly like to see more people attend church or put off their divorces, and while I wholeheartedly believe that God sometimes uses events to change hearts, it is still God and not the event which causes the change. And God's timing, it seems to me, may just be different than that of some on the Religious Right.

Others on both sides have noted, at least anecdotally, how much more important their own families have become to them. I'm one of them. I try to make more time for my kids and not bother so much with the "unimportant" stuff.

But, what's "unimportant?" It turns out that getting my oil changed every 3,000 instead of 5,000 miles, going nuts when I see a dandelion in my lawn - and doing something about it - and trekking out of my way in order to save a few bucks at the Costco Wholesaler may be small when weighed against the cares of the world. But they are part of the fabric of my life and they are important - to me.

In other words, I'm pleased to find out that Americans are an amazingly resilient people. That we are not going to become more fearful, or more depressed, or suddenly less concerned about our life's wonderful minutiae, or even more superficially religious, just because of what 19 homicidal fanatics did to our country last September..

None of this means that our compassion and concern for those directly affected by the attacks has waned one bit. Nor am I sure, though I'm cautiously optimistic, how well America would handle another attack But I do know that the one on Sept. 11, in spite of all the handwringing that followed it, doesn't seem to have ultimately changed the attitudes and lives of those Americans not directly impacted on that terrible day. And in an uncertain world, that's something I take comfort in.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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