WHEN I HEARD THE NEWS, all I could think was, "Oh no, not again!"
No, I’m not talking about the Airbus A-300 that crashed into my home borough of Queens Monday morning.
I refer to the more ominous events reported by cyber-journalist Matt Drudge the night before.
The headline read, "Big Media Florida Recount: Gore Topped Bush If All Under/Over Votes Counted."
The myth of the stolen election had returned.
Why do I call Drudge’s story "more ominous" than the plane crash? Let me explain.
The crash of American Airlines Flight 587 was jarring. Most New Yorkers assumed that the terrorists had struck again (and, frankly, most of us still do).
But what of it? A plane crash, when you get right down to it, is still just a plane crash. A thousand more like it could never shake the foundations of our Republic.
The terrorists may use airliners, anthrax or knapsack nukes, but in the end, the worst they can do is kill us. History teaches that nations can take a lot of killing, without giving in.
The Russians lost over 20 million souls in World War II. Americans cannot fathom such carnage in our darkest nightmares.
Yet many Russian oldtimers look back on what they call the Great Patriotic War with nostalgia.
In his 1976 book The Russians, New York Times correspondent Hedrick Smith recalls a Moscow dinner party at which he asked the guests to name the best period in Russian history.
Ben Levich a dissident scientist in his ‘60s responded, "The best time of our lives was the War."
"At that time we all felt closer to our government than at any other time in our lives. It was not their country then, but our country."
To illustrate, Levich told how the cheka or secret police had once come pounding on his door in the middle of the night in wartime Kazan.
"If some chekist had done that in the thirties, I would have been terrified," he said. "If it had happened after the war, just before Stalin died, it would have been just as frightening. If someone did that now, I would be very worried… But then, during the war, I was absolutely unafraid. It was a unique time in our history."
In fact, the secret police had simply come to fetch Levich to a meeting. They feared that the Germans might be using chemical warfare. Levich was a chemist, so they wanted his opinion. That was all.
Smith reports that the other Russian dinner guests shared Levich’s view. They too remembered the war for all its bloodshed as a rare and blessed moment in their lives, when they temporarily had more to fear from outsiders than they did from each other.
I thought of Levich’s story on September 14, as I watched President Bush on television, speaking at the National Cathedral in Washington.
Bush said, "Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called the warm courage of national unity."
He was right. September 11 for all its horrors had stoked a healing fire of national unity that had warmed us to our bones.
But when I logged onto the Drudge Report on Sunday night, November 11, I felt a blast of cold air instead. For the first time since the attacks, I was afraid.
"Not again," I thought. "Not again."
Do you remember, gentle reader, how it felt to fall asleep on Election Night 2000, warmed by the announcement of Bush’s victory, only to rise the next morning to the astonishing news that Al Gore would not concede?
For the first time in living memory, a ruling party had been voted out yet had refused to step down.
I remember the smiling, chatty newscasters pretending that nothing unusual was happening.
I remember Sean Wilentz a Princeton historian with close ties to the Clinton White House proposing that America hold an unconstitutional "run-off" election, supervised by the United Nations.
I remember 35 sleepless nights, haunted by the faces of Washington, Jefferson and Patrick Henry.
As schoolchildren, we were told how lucky we were to live in a country where no tanks rolled in the streets on election day.
Now I wonder if we can still make that boast.
I do not fear plane crashes, anthrax or knapsack nukes.
But I fear that Americans may never again hold a presidential election in peace.
For that, we can thank the Clinton-Gore team. Bin Laden, in his wildest fantasies, never struck a blow so hard and cruel.