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9/11 & George W. Bush: The drama of the presidency
NRO ^ | 9/11/2003 | Gleaves Whitney

Posted on 09/11/2003 9:58:52 PM PDT by Utah Girl

Certain dates in America's collective memory ring with anguish: April 12, 1861…December 7, 1941…September 11, 2001. We always remember who was in the White House in a crisis. We have Sandburg's description of Abraham Lincoln when he learned of the firing on Fort Sumter. It was barely a month after his inauguration, yet already he was weighed down by impending war and brooding on the "fiery trial" through which the nation would have to pass.

We have the newsreel of Franklin Roosevelt before Congress, resolute in his determination to take the fight to the Japanese and declaring that the attack on Pearl Harbor would be "a date that shall live in infamy."

Then we have the most unrehearsed image of all: George W. Bush amid wriggling second graders at a Florida elementary school, his face tightening the moment he learned of the second plane careening into the second tower of the World Trade Center. He thought: They have declared war on us, so we are going to war.

The images of our presidents at moments of crisis impress themselves on our visual memory and to twist a presidential line — we feel their pain.

In a crisis, Americans instinctively identify with the president. He is our nation's head of state and commander in chief, the only person in whose election all the people have a part. Justice Robert Jackson once observed that the man in the Oval Office is "the focus of public hopes and expectations. In drama, magnitude, and finality his decisions so far overshadow any others that almost alone he fills the public eye and ear."

In some ways, George W. Bush was an unlikely person to become the focus of epochal hopes and expectations. It is now a commonplace to say that he won the closest election in U.S. history. Actually that is misleading. As David Frum points out, if Al Gore had won Florida, the result would not have been the closest election, since the vice president got half a million more votes than Bush. The 43rd president hardly came into office enjoying a mandate.

Recall how bitterly divided our nation was in the eight months that followed: how President Bush was reviled by Democrats as an accidental president; how he became the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows; how he had trouble getting his agenda off the ground; how he disappointed conservatives for seeming too willing to compromise. Many Republicans, in private, were wondering whether the 43rd president had the "gravitas," the "heft" to make his mark.

Frankly many Americans were tuning out everything inside the Beltway. Although there had been sex in the Oval Office, there was no romance in politics. Washington was a well-oiled machine that could reliably produce only gridlock and cynicism.

Then time pivoted with breathtaking suddenness. Interrupting America's vacation from history was the dies irae, the Day of Wrath that signaled the start of a new war and a new century. As we watched the smoke rise from lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, something happened that most Americans had never experienced. Faced with the enormity of September 11, people willingly suspended their political allegiances and looked to their commander in chief: Tell us who did this? When's the payback and how crushing can it be?

At 9:30 A.M., the president made a brief statement at the elementary school. "Terrorism against our nation will not stand," he said, appearing shaken but determined. At 12:36 P.M., from Barksdale AFB, he held another press conference. This time he looked even more grim. There followed hours of silence. He did not return to the White House right away. There were questions — about the victims, about their killers, about the president. Where is he? What can he tell us? His invisibility was not reassuring.

It was only later, as the drama of those days unfolded, that Americans were able to take a better measure of George W. Bush. We watched as he visited the Pentagon on September 12th, and Ground Zero two days later. Standing on the rubble, he put his arm around an old firefighter, grabbed a megaphone, and shouted to the rescue workers: "I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" The crowd roared as one. America was more united and determined than at any time since World War II.

Eight days after the attacks, the president delivered an historic address before a joint session of Congress. That speech erased any doubts about his capacity to shepherd the nation through a world of wolves. With the pinpoint accuracy of a laser-guided missile, his words penetrated deep into the American heart. People from across the political spectrum reported that they had heard the greatest speech in decades, the greatest speech in their lives.

This dramatic rise in Americans' confidence in their president has echoes across our history — one thinks of Lincoln and Truman — but George W. Bush's rise may, in the end, be the most dramatic. After September 11, he struck Americans as just the right leader to express our collective sorrow, rage, and resolve to defeat a loathsome enemy.

During the fall of 2001, several characteristics made President Bush look right for the job and for the times.

First, it was apparent that Bush had "the vision thing" — in abundance. While he had delivered an eloquent acceptance speech at the nominating convention in Philadelphia in 2000, and while his Inaugural Address the following January was inspired, people were not sure how much of the oratory was his. But in the days following September 11, he revealed a pietistic devotion to the United States, identifying America's cause with civilization, freedom, and hope. He continually painted America's destiny in bold colors rather than pale pastels. Ours was a country worth serving and preserving.

Second, throughout the autumn of 2001, Bush showed the American people that he had an unclouded view of good and evil. There was not an iota of moral ambiguity about September 11. Bush labeled the terrorists and their allies "evil doers," and thereby demonstrated why he's sometimes called the "is president," as radio talk-show host Michael Wright likes to put it.

And — although it was politically incorrect to say so — America had set out on a crusade to crush evil (reminiscent of Eisenhower's "Crusade in Europe"). Bush was determined to take the fight to the enemy, and never let up, no matter what the sacrifice. In Bush at War, Bob Woodward quotes the president as saying that September 11 would be his generation's great test: "Just like my father's generation was called in World War II, now our generation is being called…. I'm here for a reason, and this is going to be how we're judged." The president added, "I will seize the opportunity to achieve big goals. There is nothing bigger than to achieve world peace."

Third, it helped that Bush surrounded himself with a first-rate team of advisers. Collectively Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and other key insiders had more than a century of national security and defense experience from which to draw. Several writers have described the fierce debates that took place in the White House after September 11, when the president would push his staff to think boldly and imaginatively about fighting a new kind of war on many fronts. Dramatically rapid victories in Afghanistan and Iraq vindicated the battlefield strategies and tactics that were developed. The CIA and FBI did their part. As of this writing, al Qaeda has apparently been kept off balance, unable to launch another attack on U.S. soil on the scale of 9/11.

Fourth, after 9/11 Bush seemed to be the right man for the job because of his ability to deal with crises. It helps that his disposition is action oriented; he is no Hamlet paralyzed by a decision tree. He has often said that he relies a lot on his gut instincts. While he seeks the counsel of advisers, in the end he checks his gut, makes his decision, and does not look back.

This past winter and spring, the majority of Americans agreed that Bush seemed to be the right man to lead the war on terror. The warm days of summer, however, have given rise to increasing political heat. Doubts mount about the wisdom of the administration's policies in Iraq especially.

While George W. Bush goes through his "fiery trial," it is much too soon to get into the business of ranking him among the presidents. 9/11 defined his mandate and drew out his capacity for leadership, to be sure. But whether he will someday be seen in the company of other wartime leaders like Lincoln and FDR remains an open question. History will be the judge.

The president's stature will rise or fall depending on the forks he encounters — and takes — on the rough road ahead. As the nation's chief negotiator, Bush has strategic decisions to make regarding our allies and enemies, as well as how to deal with fence sitters, recalcitrant Europeans, and a toothless U.N. In some ways, the Cold War world was an easier environment to cope with.

As commander in chief, Bush has tactical decisions to make as he tries to finish off the Taliban, al Qaeda, Baathists, and others in the Axis of Evil who would do us harm. How does the greatest military power in the world fight a war without fronts?

And as head of state, Bush has philosophical decisions to make about America's destiny in the world, about the nature of our republic, and about the perils of empire.

Whatever the decisions, we know this: 9/11 wholly recast the Bush presidency. Bush, through gutsy leadership, is recasting the post-9/11 world. It is an unexpected role for a president who was barely elected, and then mostly on his domestic agenda. But that is the drama of the presidency. As John F. Kennedy observed, "It is impossible to foretell the precise nature of the problems that will confront you or the specific skills and capacities which those problems will demand. It is an office which called upon a man of peace, Lincoln, to become a great leader in a bloody war; which required a profound believer in limiting the scope of federal government, Jefferson, to expand dramatically the power and range of that government; which challenged a man dedicated to domestic social reform, Franklin Roosevelt, to lead this nation into a deep and irrevocable involvement in world affairs."

Gleaves Whitney is director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: 2ndanniversary; bush43

1 posted on 09/11/2003 9:58:52 PM PDT by Utah Girl
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To: Utah Girl

2 posted on 09/11/2003 10:02:58 PM PDT by hole_n_one
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To: Utah Girl
President Bush has done a truly remarkable job in these two difficult years since 9-11. The President deserves a lot of credit for his handling of the War on Terrorism. He has been an excellent Commander In Chief and has demonstrated great national leadership. America has been fortunate to have George W.Bush as our President.

It's very sad that the political environment in America and the governing establishment in WashDC, has deteriorated so much during this time of great historical events. We should be more united then we are. But I think its fair to say, PresBush has handled that situation very well and stayed above the fray of partisan political battles. PresBush has kept his eye on the ultimate objective. The goal of keeping the American people, as safe and secure as possible, while taking the fight to the enemy and winning each battle, one step at a time.

3 posted on 09/11/2003 10:06:00 PM PDT by Reagan Man
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To: Reagan Man
Very Well put my friend, Very well put!

God only knows where we would be if Al Gore and his team of lawyers were succesful in overturning the election results in Florida and the country was led by Al Gore when we were attacked on 9/01/01. I rest peacefully in the knowledge that Al Gore is NO George W. Bush

4 posted on 09/11/2003 10:14:10 PM PDT by MJY1288 (Who Would the Terrorist Vote For ??????)
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To: Reagan Man
Two months before the election Bush was on the Letterman show ...

dl ...

are you gonna do anything if America is attacked ?

gw ...

sure I am !

dl ...

well what are you gonna do ?

(( Bush laughing his head off ))

they ain't gonna like --- WHAT I'M GOINNA DO !
5 posted on 09/11/2003 10:16:04 PM PDT by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... --- * architecture * !)
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To: f.Christian
6 posted on 09/11/2003 10:18:34 PM PDT by hole_n_one
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To: hole_n_one
Saw it live (( tape delay )) ... my heart jumped for joy --- I hated peanut head carter !
7 posted on 09/11/2003 10:21:44 PM PDT by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... --- * architecture * !)
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To: Utah Girl
President George W Bush along with his administration was the right man for the right time. I continue that despite electing clinton for 8yrs God forgave us and bestowed his Grace to us.

Too many people are forgetting and so these Memorials and reminders every year are truly needed.

Thanks for this post.

8 posted on 09/11/2003 10:24:32 PM PDT by GUIDO
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To: Reagan Man
President Al Gore would have handled 9/11 in a different way. I can just see him, " My fellow Americans what happened at the WTC shall not stand. I have instucted the FBI to work closely with the NYPD to see who is responsible and the Justice Dept. will sue their ass off once we know who they are. Of, course none of them are still alive so, I mean, we will sue their families or somebody"
9 posted on 09/11/2003 10:24:32 PM PDT by bybybill (first the public employees, next the fish and, finally, the children)
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To: bybybill
Great pic ... osama bill clinton jr --- al queda !
10 posted on 09/11/2003 10:39:42 PM PDT by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... --- * architecture * !)
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To: bybybill
Oh NO, You have it all wrong.... Here is how Al Gore would have handled it

"My Fellow Americans.... Tonight we have suffered an attack on our country that has been coming to us for a long time now. We have enjoyed the fruits of our labor while ignoring the suffering of those less fortunate than most of us. Our ignorance to the suffering of those under the thumb of our greedy corperations, and now it has come back to bite us.

I want every American to know that my Administration will thoroughly investigate why we as a Nation were not made aware of why they hate us!

Once the investigation is complete I promise all of you that America will apologize to all involved and we will do all we can, and make every effort to understand why they hate us.

Please be patient as my Administration finds a way to blame America first"

11 posted on 09/11/2003 10:42:55 PM PDT by MJY1288 (Who Would the Terrorist Vote For ??????)
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To: MJY1288
Soon after 911 ...

clinton bin laden was at Georgetown University giving a speech ---

basically blaming Republicans for these attacks !

Talk about the lemmings - al queda ... social engineering --- social science liberal DNC nazis !

Exactly 5 years on the FR ... this is what I learned !

Brown shirt box car (( acLu // naacLp // DARWIN )) america (( reno - gore - PLO - dnc - aflcio - chicoms )) ...

... vs ...

... * FREE * (( nra // RNC - BUSH )) America - Israel !

Check out the * link * !

In case you're wondering (( nra membership )) !

Check it out ... you get a free --- $ 10, 000 $ --- accidental life insurance policy with it !

No 2nd amendment ... NO 1st amendment --- soviet pc gulag stalag america a la clinton - liberals !

Traitors !

12 posted on 09/11/2003 11:08:56 PM PDT by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... --- * architecture * !)
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To: bybybill
No, President Gore would have said something like this on 09/12/2001:

"My fellow Americans, we have suffered a terrible attack. The death toll is in the thousands. Grieving families will need all our support. We're tired. We're faltering. We're failing. I can feel it in the air. Therefore, I have ordered the United States military to airlift ten million Prozac tablets to the cities of New York, Washington DC, and that town in Pennsylvania. The First Lady will take the lead on this issue [big, sloppy kiss]."

"My leadership on this issue won't stop there. We must find out why these people who attacked us, and I said 'people' since we are all human beings, hate us so much. On my orders, my administration is declaring a two week period of national self-examination and introspection to determine what we did to provoke the attacks. As part of my overall military response, bases across the United States will begin constructing a quilt that will stretch across the continent. In this way, those people overseas will realize that we are truly sorry for our actions in the past - a form of reparations."

"These actions will not be without cost and will require personal sacrifice, especially from the very wealthy. The IRS, tomorrow, will retroactively raise the marginal tax rate for those making over $62,000 per year to 75%. Senate Majority leader Hillary Clinton will take the lead on this initiative."

"Finally, because of the threat of retaliation on Muslims here in America by Christian-Americans, I've ordered our three carrier battle groups to be moved from their forward positions in the Mediterranian Sea and Indian Ocean to positions offshore of New York City and Washington DC. This show of force will protect our multicultural heritage from those who seek to do it harm."

"Until the airdrops of Prozac begin, go out and seek practitioners of your Faith Tradition for comfort in these trying times. Thank you."
13 posted on 09/11/2003 11:10:21 PM PDT by mikegi
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To: f.Christian
Get some help :-)
14 posted on 09/11/2003 11:11:23 PM PDT by MJY1288 (Who Would the Terrorist Vote For ??????)
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To: MJY1288
aloha !
15 posted on 09/11/2003 11:12:44 PM PDT by f.Christian (evolution vs intelligent design ... science3000 ... --- * architecture * !)
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To: Utah Girl
16 posted on 09/12/2003 12:27:43 AM PDT by lainde
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