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Bush 2001: From Questioned Legitimacy to Popular Leadership - 2001-12-25

The events of September 11 transformed the Bush presidency.

Mr. Bush began the year appealing for national unity. He ended 2001 as the leader of a nation drawn together by tragedy and determination to "right a huge wrong." He enters 2002 with strong public support as he wages war on terrorism.

On January 20, George W. Bush stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and took the oath of office as president of the United States.

He assumed the presidency under gloomy skies after one of the most controversial elections in U.S. history. As he addressed the nation, Mr. Bush tried to start the process of healing political wounds.

"America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens," he said.

The months that followed witnessed the ups and downs of international diplomacy and domestic politics. At home, the new president pushed congress for tax cuts. Abroad, he faced an early challenge when an American surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter jet and was forced to land in China.

Things seemed to be on an even course on September 10, when President Bush headed to Florida to highlight his education policies. The next morning he was visiting a school when his chief of staff unexpectedly entered the room and whispered in his ear. His face went grim as he put aside his prepared remarks.

"Today, we have had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country," he said.

The national unity he sought on Inauguration Day became reality on September 11 a unity built on the crumbled concrete and twisted metal of the World Trade Center, and the deep smoke-stained gash in the Pentagon.

"Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment," he said.

It was a defining moment for both the nation and the Bush presidency. He led the country in mourning, all the while planning action against those responsible for the terrorist attacks. On October 7, he went on television to tell the American people that U.S. and British forces were bombing Taleban and terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

"The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail," he said.

Critics who once questioned Mr. Bush's ability to serve as president, for the most part, fell silent. One long-time political observer said he suddenly "grew" into the job. Others said he displayed a knack for handling a crisis and a war that few had imagined.

A telling moment came in early November when President Bush went before police, firefighters and emergency medical workers in Atlanta, Georgia, and spoke of the changes the nation had seen. In so doing, he also described the evolution of his presidency.

"We are a different country than we were on September 10: sadder and less innocent; stronger and more united; and in the face of ongoing threats, determined and courageous," he said.

A few days later, the president went to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly. It was his fourth visit to the city since September 11. Each time, he focused on a unique role of the presidency.

He went to the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center to lend comfort focused on recovery in meetings with business leaders and school children celebrated life with New Yorkers at a baseball game and finally stood as the country's representative on the world stage.

"We stand in a hall devoted to peace," he said, "in a city scarred by violence, in a nation awakened to danger."

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001