by Rick Perlstein
9/11: How Bush Has Betrayed Us
Tue Sep 11, 2007 14:30

9/11: How Bush Has Betrayed Us

Submitted by Rick Perlstein on September 10, 2007 - 7:04pm.

Like everyone else, I'll never forget Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was living in Brooklyn then, and breathed air polluted by the ash from incinerated flesh. But I'll also never forget Friday, September 14. That was the day my Brooklyn neighborhood held its candlelight vigil. Our bodies spanned Seventh Avenue from sidewalk to sidewalk, for over a dozen blocks. I'll never forget the next morning either, because that's what really made me cry. I nearly broke my neck, you see, from all the leftover candle wax coating the sidewalk. So many people feeling the same thing together: remember the solidarity?

Solidarity. That was America's, and the world's, immediate response to September 11. Christopher Hayes wrote a classic essay on this forgotten word last year. He quoted the dictionary definition: "The fact or quality, on the part of communities...of being perfectly united or at lone in some respects, .esp. in the interests, sympathies, or aspirations."

The concept, wrote Hayes, "embodies a powerful moral aspiration to realize the fundamental fellowship of humankind." He quoted Rebecca Solnit on the "Uses of Disaster": "Again and again, we see a latent civil society—a community—arising from the ruins of some disaster and becoming the grounds for connection and joy."

Isn't that exactly what it was?

"We Are All Americans Now," a French newspaper proclaimed. And we Americans were all New Yorkers: "Gentiles in Georgia weeping for dead Jews in Brooklyn," is how Chris Hayes put it. And to the victims' families, we New Yorkers all shouted, We are all your brothers and sisters.

Every day, we scanned the thousands of posters taped to every lamppost and fence, the faces of the missing. And for months, we scanned the faces of our neighbors: Who did you know? How can we help? And by the way, did I tell you today how glad I am to have you around? We immediately ached to serve: the lines at our hospitals to give blood snaked around the block, until they told us there were not enough survivors to need much blood, and told us to go home.

And here was another rather neat expression of solidarity: Liberals like me rallied around a conservative president. Remember the 90 percent approval rating? A lot of leftists in that 90 percent. We rallied, too, around his chosen response: a military strike against the terrorists' havens in Afghanistan. I wrote about that left near-consensus at the time, in the New York Observer. The late Ellen Wills (I tried to convey how left she was by noting that she "still espouses the old Marxist-Freudian doctrine of the revolutionary potential of free love") said, "To do nothing is unacceptable." A Queens Green Party official told me, "If this was a short period and they got the terrorist network, I would be able to forgive them."

Yes, the left chose solidarity with the right, the lambs lying down with the lions. Because these conservatives promised mercy would accompany the required rough justice. President Bush promised of the Afghanistan campaign: "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them." Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, the preeminent fire-breathing Orange County conservative, promised, "The new moral standard has got to be that noncombatants will not be attacked. We will not kill unarmed innocent people in order to achieve a political objective."

The President asked for the power he said he needed to fight the terrorists. And in solidarity, Democrats in Congress chose trust. A September 13 bill reforming FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, extending new wiretapping and electronic surveillance capabilities the President specified he would need, passed by voice vote, without debate. The authorization of force passed the Senate unanimously. The standing ovation at his joint session of Congress was unanimous. Al Gore, who'd had his presidency stolen by Bush, stood up at an Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner and said: "Regardless of party, regardless of ideology, regardless of religion or race or ethnicity, there are no divisions in this country where our response to the war on terrorism is concerned. We are united... George W. Bush is my commander in chief."

The PATRIOT Act passed 98 to 1 and 357 to 66. Even Bush got into the reconciliation act, after an early stumble in which he called the War on Terrorism a "crusade." Remember "Islam means peace"?

And guess what? Some on the right hated it—hated the solidarity. They wanted Bush to be a divider. Here was Jonah Goldberg:

Much of the country has grown to love President Bush since Sept. 11, giving him the highest and most sustained approval ratings of any president since polling began. Good for him. Me, I liked the pre-9/11 Bush better....

Prior to Sept. 11, the dominant lesson Bush and his adviser Karl Rove learned from Poppa Bush's experience was to keep the base happy. This didn't require doing everything the conservative rank-and-file wanted; governing, after all, always requires making compromises with political realities. But it did require caring about what they thought.

Unfortunately, since Sept. 11, the Bushies have taken down the proverbial "it's the base, stupid" sign from the office bulletin board and replaced it with "it's the lead, stupid."

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the reigning rule has switched from defend your base to don't blow your approval ratings. The rationale seems to be that the conservative base is safe because Bush is doing a good job on the war on terror and this in turn gives him room to run to the middle on a host of issues.

That was May of 2002. Of course Goldberg's lament was premature. It wouldn't be four months before he started selling his radical monstrosity in Iraq. They simultaneously made the Democrats' routine request to make the new Department of Homeland Security a place where solidarity was not banned—simply trying to extend ordinary civil service labor protections to workers newly under its umbrella—just the campaign issue they needed to drum up hatred of Democrats for the 2002 off-year elections: “union bosses strive to use the war on terror as a cover for a new drive for power," is how they responded. Even though the Department of Homeland Security was the Democrats' idea, an idea the Republicans originally fought. That, recall, was how legless Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, among others, was defeated. With TV ad picturing Cleland with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. For saying unions had a place in the federal government. Solidarity forever.

Goldberg needn't have feared Bush would dare govern in the interests of national unity. Indeed, Goldberg wasn't even correct when he wrote that. Bush was already defecating upon the unity that tragedy had accidentally bestowed upon him by violating the very eavesdropping law shouted through Congress in a full-throated cry of unity, as America happend to learn over three years later, seretly authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without a court-approved warrant.

Of course Bush never meant it. He never meant to embrace solidarity at all. September 11, 2001? It's just a sickening political prop.]


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