Accessibility links

Breaking News

9/11 Remains a Top Campaign Issue in US Presidential Race - 2004-09-08

The third anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history is a week away? though for many Americans, it feels as if little time has passed since September 11th, 2001. The events of that day were the focus of this past week's Republican National Convention, as delegates and elected officials gathered in New York City to recall the courage, the fear, the heroism, and the anger brought forth by those attacks. But as VOA's Maura Farrelly reports, a day that sparked unprecedented unity three years ago has now become a subject of debate.

It was a day that was seared into the hearts and minds of every single American old enough to understand. It's safe to say there isn't a person in this country who doesn't remember where he was, or what he was doing, when he first learned that two planes had been deliberately flown into the World Trade Center in New York. Rudolph Guiliani was the city's mayor at the time. He told the Republican delegates who recently gathered in New York that he remembered vividly what he was feeling as he stood in the streets of lower Manhattan, watching the towers burn.

"Without really thinking, based just on emotion, spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerick and said to Bernie, 'Thank God George Bush is president,'" said Mr. Guiliani.

Mayor Guiliani wasn't the only Republican feeling that way. Senator John McCain of Arizona, who challenged President Bush for the party's nomination in 2000, told the crowd that during the days that followed the attacks, he felt confident he'd made the right decision when he bowed out of the race and backed George W. Bush for president.

"I knew my confidence was well placed when I watched him stand on the rubble of the World Trade Center, with his arm around a hero of September 11, and in our moment of mourning and anger, strengthen our unity and summon our resolve by promising to right a terrible wrong, and to stand up and fight for the values we hold dear," said Mr. McCain.

For Republicans, the heroism of 9/11 is inextricably linked to the persona of George W. Bush. But as any historian will tell you, after a national tragedy, there is always debate about how it will be remembered and it was clear this week that in New York, at least, not everyone associates the president with the courage that was shown on September 11.

"We don't want these guys coming to our city, just so they can basically dance on Ground Zero. It's disrespectful, and it makes me sick to my stomach," said one New York resident.

"They're using our dead to further their political aims," said another. "Friends of mine died, I know people who worked afterwards who were down there who volunteered their time. One of my friends is a doctor, he gave up everything. They didn't do this so George Bush could use it as a political issue."

But is it fair to expect the party in power on that day not to stake a claim to the heroism? Not to use it to put a positive spin on foreign policy decisions since that time? No, says Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.

"The events of September 11, 2001, are part of American history. They are an important moment probably the single most important moment in the presidency of George W. Bush," he says. "To ignore 9/11 would seem to be trying to erase history. The question is whether the Republicans look crass, overly political in their references to 9/11, or whether they are simply identifying with it, using it in a reasonably sensitive way."

So then what's the verdict? There isn't a definitive one and there probably won't be, so long as every New Yorker who was alive on that day is still around. But for his part, Stuart Rothenberg says he thinks the Republicans' references to 9/11 were appropriate.

"I think it was used relatively tastefully," he adds. "Relatives of three people who died on 9/11 came to the Republican Convention, presented their stories and really did not mention the president, the Republican Party or politics. So I think the Republicans did succeed in dealing with it in a sensitive kind of way."

But whether they dealt with it in an effective way remains to be seen. The answer to that question won't be known until after the presidential votes are counted November 2.