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Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2001 /3 Teves, 5762

Chris Matthews

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New York after the fall


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- NEW YORK | If this greatest city is saddened three months after the fall of the World Trade Center, then it is also different. I can think of five things that have changed for the better.

1. People now value service more than celebrity. A new Gallup Poll shows that we Americans now accord the highest moral prestige to two professions: firefighters and nurses. It took the world's worst terrorist attack to remind us of what we knew when we were 5 years old. Boys wanted to be firemen and girls wanted to be nurses because of the basic human instinct to help people and be brave for them.

The front page of the paper has replaced the gossip page as the stimulant of our imaginations. Instead of praising the "beautiful people," we celebrate the gritty guys who trudged so dutifully up those stairs on Sept. 11 when the rest of us were running down them.

That's the heart of it. This Christmas, we are once again those 5-year-olds who wanted to grow up to be firefighters and nurses, who wanted to save people, to be courageous in the face of danger. We have peeled off the years of money-chasing and status-seeking back to what really turned us on when our bodies were small, but our souls were large.

2. People value authenticity more than slickness. I have no earthly idea how Bill Clinton might have handled this crisis. What I do know is that not once in the last 90 days have I read that dreaded word "charisma" or seen a politician praised for his polish or smoothness, or been called "slick."

Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of this city, was a star of those immediate weeks for the simple reason that he showed up, told us the truth, and did his job. He told us what he knew as soon as he knew it, not when it suited him. There was no "rolling disclosure," no politician out there telling us what he wanted us to know when he wanted us to know it.

Secretary of State Don Rumsfeld is another honest briefer. Behind those quizmaster's glasses is a guy fully capable of doing his job and completely confident in letting us know it. I suppose it helps to be back in the same job, Secretary of Defense, that he had in Gerald Ford's administration.

3. People value executives over legislators. "Peanuts" creator Charles Schultz once showed us the difference between being a grown-up and being a kid. The kid sits in the back of the car and complains, "I'm hungry. She's teasing me. I'm carsick. When are we going to get there?"

The grown-up is the one who pays for the car and the gas, gets the map, figures out how to get there, and drives.

The U.S. Senate -- "the World's Greatest Deliberative Body" -- is in the back seat. Jobs such as Mayor of New York, president, and even secretary of Transportation are the drivers. That's why people look to the mayor in time of crisis and not to the senators, who have their own complaining to do.

4. People value community more than ethnic intramurals. There's better eye contact out in the streets than there used to be.

People are talking to the people they meet in the elevator, the bar, the coffee line. "Hello" has replaced the averted glance.

"Community": That's the word for what we're feeling. The Falwells and the Jacksons are quiet today because nobody wants to play the old intramurals of class, ethnic and racial rivalry.

5. Patriotism is more important than politics. It was always there. We didn't learn "God Bless America" for the occasion. We were brought up on it.

What we'd forgotten was that the 20 percent of American life that we argue about -- tax rates, trade policy, social programs -- is outweighed by the 80 percent that unites us -- democracy, freedom, human rights, the right to pursue happiness.

Jan. 1 is coming on strong. I say we resolve in 2002 to stick to these newfound values a little while longer. When people ask me whether I'm right, left or center, I'm simply going to say, "I'm an American."



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of "Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think". and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Comment by clicking here.

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