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How Real Did It Feel?

Comments from Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Ed Koch, Howard Wolfson, Bob Kerrey, Tom Wolfe, Kieran Mahoney, and Dr. Calvin Butts

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Dr. Calvin Butts, pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church:
I think absolutely the threat is real. Time is not an issue for the terrorists. They have an agenda, and they’ll work that out over whatever time. I think the mayor is right to demand from Washington—without any apology—that we get the focus of its attention where terrorist dollars are concerned. I’ll ride the subways. I’ll drive across the bridges. I’ll go through the tunnels. I’ll avoid places like the financial district. If you don’t have to go there, it doesn’t make sense to crowd the area when they’re trying to make it safe. But if I have to go to J.P. Morgan or the Federal Reserve Bank, I’m on my way.

Kieran Mahoney, political consultant:
It would be so ludicrous to risk the condemnation that would happen if it were found to be politically motivated that I don’t think anybody would even consider it for two seconds. That’s just chatter—and I don’t see it coming from serious Democrats.

Tom Wolfe:
I’ve just been picking up on the idea that this whole thing was manufactured or dug up for political reason. I would seriously doubt it. I cannot think of any administration in my lifetime that has been that Machiavellian. I mean, the number of people set in motion by the warning is . . . I just can’t believe it. I trust the system. Our system drives everybody to the center. It drove Clinton to the center. It drove Reagan to the center. I can’t believe they would have enough wacko elements to do something with malice of forethought. I haven’t changed anything I do, but when it comes up, I always remember how real it seemed on September 11. It was real then. Beyond that, I can’t think of any way it has altered my daily routine or my family’s. We probably should have a plan. I do have a huge flashlight—but that was from the blackout of 1977.

Bob Kerrey, president, the New School:
I’m sort of hanging on to the confidence that they wouldn’t be alerting us if there wasn’t something to it. I do feel like they’ve cried wolf at least one time too many. I’m sorry to Tom Ridge, but I just don’t feel emotionally I should respond. My honest response is that I don’t have a response. I don’t feel like they’ve done anything to improve the situation. They got weapons of mass destruction wrong and they’ve gotten threats wrong. As a member of the 9/11 Commission and a former senator, people may assume I know more than I do. I watch television. I read the news. And what I got out of that was that they have some credible information that it could happen Sunday, then Monday. Now I hear it’s something that may predate 9/11. Then I hear, “No, it’s new.” At some point you’re better off not telling us. I might not take the subway. Not because of bomb threats. I just don’t want to be in any closed space with a guy with an M-16.

Howard Wolfson, political consultant:
Maybe I’m a little different from other Democrats in this, but I do not want to believe that our government is manipulating the terror threats. It’s too disturbing to contemplate. After 9/11, my wife and I sort of prepared an apocalypse cabinet in the apartment with water and canned goods, and then over time we began eating and drinking it. It may be time to restock.

Ed Koch:
I think it’s an outrage that Howard Dean would seek to make little of the threats. But I’m not frightened. It’s more likely you will be struck by a bolt of lightning than killed by a terrorist.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor, The Nation:
There is legitimate anxiety, but one could argue that what should have been done is to inform the authorities privately at those buildings. I was hijacked maybe 25 years ago on a plane from Geneva by an ex-Nazi who demanded the release of Sirhan Sirhan and five Serbo-Croatian terrorists. So I sort of feel an immunity: I don’t think I’m going to go in a terrorist incident.


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