On Monday night, David Letterman proved again why he is the current king of late night television. Speaking from the heart and choking back his emotions, he explained that he was unsure he should be doing his television show now, but that he had been inspired by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s plea to try to return New York City to normal.

Much of the attention from that show has gone to guest Dan Rather, who, no doubt suffering complete exhaustion after putting in 16 hour days every day for the last week, broke down at least twice when talking about last week’s attack and the ensuing carnage.

But it was Letterman’s opening commentary, seemingly from small notes and without cue cards, along with a perfect mix of raw emotion, information, and –- thanks to the equally genuine Regis Philbin -– moments of mild humor, that set the tone not only for his own show but for all other TV talkers.

Letterman claimed he was unsure of how to handle the show, saying he didn’t trust his own feelings, and that he was just a dumb guy trying to understand this madness. He shouldn’t have any doubts. He is by far the most intelligent and natural broadcaster of all his peers.

Letterman paid homage to Giuliani, saying he “defined courage.” No matter what you may have thought of him before, you have to respect the way the Mayor has seen his city through this crisis. When asked today, if term limits were revoked, would he like to continue being Mayor of New York for another four years, he answered, “I haven’t had time to think about that….there’s much more important work to be done right now.” Can’t argue with that.

At the other end of the spectrum, can anyone still have even an ounce of respect for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson after their incredibly divisive remarks? Falwell essentially said that God probably gave America what it deserved, blaming the attack on gays, lesbians, feminists, the ACLU, etc. Robertson agreed completely. These two are religious extremists who believe that a vengeful deity works on the agenda of their own hatred to kill those who dare disagree with them.

That’s more than un-American. That’s the Taliban.

After some — but not nearly enough — people condemned Falwell for what he said, he complained that he was being quoted out of context. When no one bought that, he was forced to issue an apology. Sorry, Jerry, too little, too late. It’s obvious that you truly believe what you said, and are only now doing a mea culpa in an attempt to save yourself from the pile of irrelevancy to which Robertson was banished several years ago. This is not to say that all evangelical Christians should be seen as sharing Falwell’s views (any more than saying all Muslims share Osama bin Laden’s views), but why they, or anyone else, would want anything to do with Falwell ever again is beyond me. Not that I understood it in the first place.

You think that’s harsh? Let’s reverse it. Just imagine the uproar if an Islamic religious leader had made those statements. There would be even more mosques attacked in this country than there already have been by other morons practicing their own disgusting brand of American vigilantism.

Who was it who first considered war to be “holy,” anyway?

To make it worse, Falwell chose to make these statements at a time when our country is all about unity, not polarization. While never denying his First Amendment right to shove his foot so far down his mouth that he chokes on his own kneecaps, we should all censure anyone who looks to make scapegoats of Americans for this horror.

The blame lies entirely with these enemies who turned our own airplanes against us, wreaking havoc never before known on these shores. They did all this damage through years of planning, plus a few knives and a couple of box cutters. But until they took over those planes, these madmen hadn’t committed any crime. It was legal for them to have those sharp implements on their person as they passed through the airport security checkpoint. In response, the FAA has now banned passengers from bringing any knives onboard a commercial flight. Will they still hand them out to first class passengers with their meals, or will future terrorists have to use a fork? The hijackers were all sitting in first class seats, by the way.

A great deal of the clamp down on security across America is merely cosmetic. It is designed to make us feel more secure, without actually ensuring our security. We’ll be more vigilant, just as we did after Tim McVeigh killed 168 Americans, but once a few months have passed, we’ll get lax again, unfortunately.

Not that America doesn’t have continuing cause to worry, but some of the reaction borders on the paranoid. What’s being overlooked is the fact that these terrorists were not simply out to get American citizens. They could have killed more of us by crashing their fuel-loaded airplane bombs into the stands of any Nascar race.

But these demons wanted to demolish American icons, which is why they targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (although we now know that the true target was the Capitol Dome). Those are symbols of everything they hate. While we would have mourned the deaths of thousands of Americans in other venues just as deeply, these attacks dug more intensely into the American psyche because of the buildings our fellow citizens were in at the time of the attacks.

So many other things have occurred to me over the last week. Here are just a few more…

Michael Moore, the film maker and TV producer, was in Oklahoma City yesterday and went to the memorial site for the Murrah Building blast. He noted that a large granite slab there says “9:03,” and was struck by the fact that this is the same exact minute that the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center.

I nearly choked at the irony of seeing Yassar Arafat condemning the attack on America and then giving blood. As if his contributing one pint somehow makes up for the gallons of blood he and his followers have spilled through the years.

On my Monday show, I begged the TV broadcasters to stop showing the video images of the planes hitting the Twin Towers. We have all seen those images so often that they are seared into our consciousness. No need to run them again for a very long time. On Tuesday, David Westin, president of ABC News, became the first to declare that his network would not show that footage anymore. Bravo!

Finally, I can’t help but wonder whether we’ll care about “reality TV” anymore. Suddenly, the phrases “Survivor” and “Fear Factor” have taken on a new meaning in America.

So has “reality.”