Those who suggested three years ago that Sept. 11 would linger in American memory like other tragic dates in our country's history - Dec. 7, Aug. 6, Nov. 22 - have turned out to be right.
Just as Americans attached meaning to the anniversaries of the Pearl Harbor attack, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and the assassination of President John Kennedy, so we have attached meaning to the day of the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Unfortunately, Sept. 11 has very different meanings for different Americans.
To most Americans, the date recalls a moment of extreme sorrow, deep anger and genuine fear. Unfortunately, for the ugliest Americans, the date represents something else altogether: an opportunity to exploit the sorrow, anger and fear of others.
Neither political party has been entirely honorable in this regard. Democrats and Republicans have wrestled over the lingering legacy of Sept. 11. But there can be little debate that, in the exploitation sweepstakes, the Republicans have gained the upper hand.
The GOP convention in New York City this summer saw the most grotesque grabbing to date for the mantle of the party trying hardest to manipulate the country's collective Sept. 11 memory.
Speaker after speaker sought to establish some kind of linkage between the legitimate drive to hold accountable those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and the illegitimate, unnecessary war in Iraq. Some of the speakers, including the usually reliable U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made outlandish claims with regard to connections that do not exist. President Bush was not immune to the exploitive tendencies of his party. His speech, while somewhat more temperate than those of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., and Vice President Dick Cheney, sought once more to forge connections that never existed in any sort of significant manner between Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.
Americans need to recognize that Bush and the other speakers were seeking to take advantage of our grief - not to protect or serve us.
That is shameful, to be sure. But it is also pathetic.
A president who is unwilling to level with the American people, a president who has to resort to petty distortions in order to advance his policies and his political prospects, demeans both himself and his office.
Perhaps most significantly, in an election year, George W. Bush's actions have raised questions about why any thinking voter would choose to reward those who have exploited this date with a second term in which to maintain the manipulation.
Instead of using the memory of Sept. 11 to unite Americans and to ally this country with a caring world, this president has sought to spin it for political advantage. And by seeking at their convention to deceive the American people once more with claims about an elusive connection between Iraq and al-Qaida, the president and his partisans have signaled their determination to exploit this date for as long as the American people will allow them to occupy the White House.
© 2004 The Capital Times/Wisconsin