Comedian John Stewart, of The Daily Show, summed it up best when he began his recent interview with Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie by joking, “So, why did you all pick New York City for your convention, was San Francisco all booked up?”
Democrats, Republicans, Independents, non-voters and many others were killed on Sept. 11th, 2001. No one owns that tragedy, not even family members of the victims like myself, and surely not a president who has used the tragedy to silence political opponents. It was perhaps inevitable that the tragedy would play a role in the politics of the post-9/11 world, but the extent to which the Republicans are making it a partisan issue is a bit alarming. After all, the first night of the convention was much more a memorial service and muscle-flexing contest than political convention, replete with eulogies from 9/11 widows, a rendition of Amazing Grace, and John McCain strangely warning terrorists who have no qualms about killing themselves and innocent people that “we’ll never surrender, you’ll have to”. There were practically zero policy proposals, or reviews of how the President has specifically made us safer. With all due respect, it was a bunch of hallmark card emotionalism and tough guy, macho posturing. Perhaps the most offensive aspect was the constant insinuation that the other party just does not care about protecting you and your children from mass murderers. The sad thing is, this overwhelming attempt to overwhelm people’s emotions to get them to vote for a particular candidate tends to work. And the Democrats have been engaged in a less offensive; yet parallel manipulation as they’ve totally committed to the “our guy is just as macho as your guy” campaign.
Our city’s tragedy, the Murrah Building bombing of 1995, has been relatively free from such political exploitation. Of course April 19th and Sept. 11th had much different ramifications on world events, and it’s not surprising that a president who would otherwise be largely regarded as a disappointment on domestic and economic issues would want to trumpet the one issue that has given him popularity. However, the way 9/11 has been used by his campaign and supporters is not the mature and respectful debate on the very important issue of terrorism and how to protect ourselves that should indeed take place. Instead, it has been used to bludgeon people into a “sympathy vote” with the grief, anger and resolve many of us felt in the days after the attack, and steer people away from those messy questions about whether the Iraq war has created more terrorists, and how the president and vice-president fought like hell to keep the 9/11 Commission from ever being formed.
The third anniversary of the attacks is upon us, and much has changed since that awful morning. In the days and months after the attacks many people in our country were easily moved by words of retribution and tough talk. I understand that such visceral appeals resonate with some people, and there is a need to process our anger after such a horrifically unjust event. But I would hope that we could move past that now, and deal with the boring but much more important task of working behind the scenes in a broad based way to defuse the popularity of terrorist groups. Such ends are accomplished with methods and actions that are not nearly as sexy as dropping a bomb from 30,000 feet or challenging violent people to a showdown at high noon.
I’m sure to get the usual letters and emails accusing me of using the tragedy too. And I’m not looking for any free passes or even sympathy. A nasty email telling me I should leave the country because I don’t acquiesce to a partisan, dumbed-down “united we stand patriotism” is patty-cakes compared to watching my brother killed on national television. The Republicans have the right to parade the 9/11 dead, and hide the Iraqi war dead, for votes—but history won’t look kindly on it.
Andrew Rice is on the board of the Nobel Peace Prize Nominated Group, Sept. 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and directs the Oklahoma-based Red River Democracy Project (www.rrdp.org). Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org