2004-03-19 / Community

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky

Politics and Discourse
The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky Politics and Discourse

Right after the horrendous events of 9/11, this country came together in a way we had rarely seen before. Reeling in shock from an attackA0on allA0Ameri cans, no matter who or where we were, expressions of concern and support poured into New YorkA0from around the country. In my former capacity as Assistant Commissioner for Opera tions in a mayoral agency, I personally fielded calls fromA0all over the nation, calls from concerned citizens and companies who just wanted to help us out. They volunteeredA0time, money, and physical space in which to site our displaced offices (since most city agencies wereA0blown out of the downtown Man hattan area due toA0airborne pollutants from the ongoing fire then raging in the bowels of what had been theA0Trade Center).

Politicians, too, came together in sup port of the national administration in Washington. And the airwaves were filled with pundits declaring their shock andA0disgust with the vicious, unprovoked attacks that left a gaping hole in lower Manhattan, drove people from their homes and places of business, and, worst of all,A0took the lives of nearly 3,000A0innocent human beings in the hellish conflagrationA0of the two towers, driving someA0to leapA0to their deathsA0to avoid theA0inferno that was engulfing them. Bush and his team actedA0decisively, once they were convinced who had been behind the unprecedented destruction we had endured. And Americans came togetherA0behind them.

But then something happened. As the horror of the immediate events receded, as the president began to pursue his policy of proactive engagement with the world’s terrorists, many Ameri cans began to remember their political affiliations. It wouldn’t do for a president,A0who these people felt was part of that "other" party, toA0get too strong. How could you win an election against a popular wartime president? So, very quickly, the narrative began to change, even as our memories of the horrors of 9/11 grew cold. One after another, political pundits and leaders from the other side of the aisle began to find reasons to carp, reasons that only grew with time, particularly as the Bush administration turned its attention to the terror fraught regime in the Middle East of our old enemy Saddam Hussein.

For many who had opposedA0Saddam throughout the nineties, he suddenly became theA0touchstone of opposition to a president perceived as becoming too popular because of hisA0resolute actions after 9/11. Saddam wasn’t Osama after all. Why was Bush bothering with a rogue like him, a man whose main crime of the moment seemed to be the torture and oppression of his own people? And so the opposition grew, rolling into an election year thatA0was to be punctuated with repeated jabs at the president for allegedly telling usA0lies, getting it wrong, taking away our civil liberties, failing to revive the economy, etc., etc. The president’s opponents in the media and the political world relentlessly tore at him in order to break down that mantle of authority and respectability he’d wonA0in the public’s mind after 9/11.

ButA0were these criticisms on the money? One can’t helpA0having the feeling that, had George W. Bush waffled and been timid in his response to the terrorists after 9/11,A0DemocratsA0like Kerry and Dean (not to mention Daschle, Pelosi, Kennedy, et al) would have castigated him for having failedA0to show the necessary leadership and resolve. And had Bush failed to go after Saddam and focused entirely onA0OsamaA0instead, wouldn’t the Demo cratsA0have said, ‘sure he’s fixated on the al Qaeda leader but look how he’s forgotten the real threat to this country, Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who funds and supports terrorism, invaded his neighbors, pursued wmd and even tried to assassinate an Ameri can president’?

On the matter of the economy, when the indicators were still in recession mode, the knock on Bush was that heA0was presiding over a failing economy and his only solution, tax breaks, could only make things worse. Of course, as the economy came roaring back, they cried that the tax breaks had nothing to do with it, that jobs haven’t come back yet (time will still have to tell on that score!), and that our current deficit is now the worst in history. (It’sA0NOT, of course,A0in relation to the size of the current economy but most people don’t payA0close attention to little nuances like that.)

So the narrative, which has been changing since the Democrats realized the problem they’d be facing in trying to unseat a sitting, wartime president, has become ever more shrill and harsh. Why? Well, there’s resentment out there, of course, resentment at having lost the White House to the "other" party, the party that doesn’t represent the Northeastern and West Coast establishments, the party that doesn’t trace its roots back to Roose velt’s New Deal (never mind that current scholarly opinion is beginning to note that Roosevelt’s policies FAILED TO END the Great Depression, that it took a World War to do that).

And soA0in the end it’s all about narrative. With the relentless pounding of political punditry, the story about this president is being slowly and inexorably changed. Did Bush respond firmly and swiftly to defend this nation after 9/11? Well, they tell us, maybe he reallyA0should have prevented those attacks in the first place! (Bet Clinton and Gore would have, right?) And look how Bush has gone and made everyone mad at us, including our beloved friends, the French.A0And now he’sA0meddled in the affairs of sovereign Iraq, removingA0a revered and honored leader who was the legitimate ruler of his country (we know he was legitimate because he told us so).

When you look at these arguments, listen to the claims, what are you left with? Is it facts we’re hearing? Is it information about the way things really are? Or is it something else? Isn’t it really just the usual spin any group will put on a narrativeA0to shape it? Bush was in the National Guard and distinguished himself as a bright young pilot. Oh yeah, well let him prove it! Where’s that "band of brothers" our guy, Kerry,A0has at his back? Sure when the Democratic candidate was Clinton, who famously failed to show up at his promised ROTC rendezvous and took off for England instead,A0what you did back then didn’t seem to matterA0to these critics. But now, the Democrats have got themselves a candidate who wears his war service on his inflated chest, justA0like one of those medals he said he threw away on the steps of the Capitol building during a protest back in the seventiesA0. . . but really didn’t. Let Bush compete with Kerry’s heroism, they say, as they revive the war service issue. And if Bush responds to all this?A0He’s on theA0defensive, they tell usA0. . . or, worse, he’s "going negative" against poor, brave John Kerry.A0Say what? What have the Democrats been doing all this time to Bush, as 9/11 faded from our collective consciousness.


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