On the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, John McCain and Barack Obama will set politics aside and attend today's annual memorial ceremony in New York. There will be a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the minute the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. There will be moments of silence at the times the three other hijacked planes crashed, and the names of all 2,751 World Trade Center victims will be read. For a while this morning, politicians and citizens will stand as united as we were in the immediate aftermath of the deadliest attacks ever on American soil.
While everyone remembers where they were that morning in 2001, the attacks gradually receded from our everyday thoughts. Yet in ways large and small, Americans are still wrestling with the consequences and the fears of another attack. Airport security is tougher than ever, and there is public debate over new body scans that are overly intrusive electronic body searches. Strict new building codes were approved, but now even a federal agency is lobbying to repeal reasonable requirements for better fire-proofing and more emergency stairwells in tall buildings. The more time that passes, the more difficult it is deciding between what are reasonable precautions and what are acceptable risks.
The impact of 9/11 is still very real, and it stretches far beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The full extent of the erosion of individual privacy and civil liberties orchestrated by the Bush administration in the name of national defense may not be clear until a new president takes office. The families of those lost in the attacks and the relatively few who survived with serious injuries are still coping with the devastating changes to their lives. The election campaigns feature overheated rhetoric about terrorism and which candidate would best deal with future threats.
For a while this morning, at least, the political and policy differences will be put aside. The 9/11 victims will be remembered, and the collective spirit and shared values that unite Americans will shine through.