Ten Days After: Day Four

Previous posts in this series:

Ten Days After: Introduction
Ten Days After: Day One
Ten Days After: Day Two
Ten Days After: Day Three

The contrast between New York Mayor Giuliani’s and the President’s on-air performances was too big even for Mickey Kaus not to miss. Kaus wrote in Slate:

In several appearances each day, New York’s mayor has been informative, accessible, spontaneously human. He answers questions. He’s clearly in control. As Salon’s Joan Walsh notes, Giuliani says what needs to be said, acknowledging the tragedy without being overwhelmed by it, praising the efforts of rescue crews, counseling against anti-Arab vigilantism, sharing credit, avoiding personal grandstanding.

Meanwhile, Bush has appeared for a few moments a day, reading scripts or (as in his visits to the wounded) giving a few rambling impressions. He doesn’t answer questions. On the first day, he sent out an aide, Karen Hughes, to inform the public. She didn’t answer questions either. Even Bush’s friends don’t really dispute the overall verdict on the president. When columnist and former presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan writes that “the great leaders in our time of trauma were the reporters and anchors and producers of the networks and news stations,” the negative implication is clear. If Bush had offered any great leadership, Noonan would have mentioned it.

But on Friday, September 14, George Bush began to turn his performance around. That morning he spoke at a prayer service at the National Cathedral:

Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.

And rid the world of evil. Just like that. Y’know, we’ve tolerated this evil thing far too long. It’s time we did something about it.

(Note to future generations of Americans, if there are any: If your leaders ever start to talk about ridding the world of evil, revolt immediately.)

But the speech as a whole was good; it was about unity and national character. Just the right words. The National Cathedral service was attended by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; former Vice President Al Gore; and a host of senators, representatives, cabinet members and military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Vice President Dick Cheney was at Camp David for security reasons.

After the service the President flew to New York to, finally, visit the Pile. Many people remember that visit as Bush’s finest hour in office — the Bullhorn Moment.

The official White House transcript:

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. I want you all to know —

Q Can’t hear you.

THE PRESIDENT: I can’t talk any louder. (Laughter.)

I want you all to know that America today — that America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. This nation stands with the good people of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut, as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.

Q I can’t hear you.

THE PRESIDENT: I can hear you. (Applause.) I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. (Applause.) And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. (Applause.)

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

THE PRESIDENT: The nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud. And may God bless America. (Applause.)

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

(The President waves small American flag.) (Applause.)

Robert McFadden reported for The New York Times:

Accompanied by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Gov. George E. Pataki and members of New York’s Congressional delegation, the president waded into a rowdily enthusiastic crowd of hard-hatted rescue workers under an overcast late-afternoon sky to shake hands, ask questions and offer thumbs up.

The president had proclaimed a national day of mourning and remembrance, and it was observed in houses of worship and other settings across the country. But it was also observed, apparently spontaneously, in Britain, France, Italy, Israel and other countries closely allied with the United States. In London, traffic halted, classes stopped and people stood silent for three minutes.

Media reaction to the Bullhorn Moment was mostly, but not entirely, positive. On PBS Newshour, Mark Shields suggested that Bush’s finest hour didn’t quite rise up to the level of past presidents’ finest hours:

JIM LEHRER: Mark, how do you feel the President is doing?

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I don’t think the President has seized the moment. He hasn’t made a connection with the people. He hasn’t established a sense of command. I think Tuesday was important because it was the first real crisis of George Bush’s presidency. And whether subsequent events indicate that there was a real threat or whatever, the fact that he didn’t return to the White House, didn’t return to Washington, and he has lacked any sense of eloquence.

David McCullough, the historian, said that great Presidents basically have a great ability to communicate and to speak. Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Reagan, and I was thinking of Reagan in the sense of January 28, 1986, when the “Challenger” went down. Ronald Reagan spoke for the nation. That’s what a President has to do — as they waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God. That spoke for everybody at the time. The President hasn’t established the tone.

And the problem for him is that, Paul’s right, as commander in chief, that’s an important part of the job, but the President is also a chaplain, is also a coach, is also someone who has to inspire and explain. I don’t think he has done that and Rudy Giuliani, the Mayor of New York, so aptly described by Paula Span in the “Washington Post” as Winston Churchill in a Yankees cap, has filled that role remarkably well. And it stood in contrast.

JIM LEHRER: What about today, Paul’s point about the President’s remarks at the National Cathedral and also to the workers in New York?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought the New York event, I’m glad he went. It just seems he’s a day late each place. I don’t mean to be nit-picking on him, but the New York thing, talking at a moment like that at a place like that through rough a bull sound– what the what do you call it?

PAUL GIGOT: Bullhorn.

JIM LEHRER: Mega horn, whatever, yeah.

MARK SHIELDS: Bullhorn – now, it just didn’t seem appropriate. I thought the National Cathedral service was moving and touching and I thought he did better than he had done at any point up to that point.

In time Mark Shields would find himself in a minority; a great many Americans were inspired by the Bullhorn Moment. The rally ’round the President was underway. But last year, Denis Hamill wrote in the New York Daily News:

I’m amazed that anyone is amazed that it took George W. Bush three days to show up in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

That’s exactly how long it took him to show up at Ground Zero after 9/11.

So it mystifies me that the pundits and the cable gasbags keep telling us that George W. Bush missed his “bullhorn moment” in New Orleans.

No, he didn’t.

Because his bullhorn moment in New York City was just as late and just as disgraceful as his fumbling handling of the Katrina carnage.

I wish I had a bullhorn to shout just how tired I am of hearing about how wonderful George W. Bush’s “bullhorn moment” was.

It will go down as one of the worst moments in American history because when he stood on the smoldering ruins amid the dust of the dead it was through that bullhorn that Bush’s Big Lie was first shouted to the world that the people who knocked down those buildings would soon be hearing from us.

It might have been a fairly good, better-late-than-never moment if all Bush had done was use that bullhorn to launch a war on Al Qaeda. It might have escalated into a great piece of historical stagecraft if we’d just gone into Afghanistan and stayed the course on a noble quest to kill Osama Bin Laden and all his Al Qaeda cowards who murdered our people.

But the words that echoed through Bush’s bullhorn into the smoldering 16 acres of lower Manhattan, the words that resounded across the grieving outer boroughs and the sorrowful suburbs and the stunned globe, were but an orchestrated setup for a grander diabolical scheme.

Because we fast gave up the hunt for Bin Laden for a bait-and-switch war in Iraq that had nothing to do with the rubble upon which Bush stood at Ground Zero shouting bull through his bullhorn.

Via Media Matters — yesterday Fred Barnes reported for the rightie rag Weekly Standard:

WE NOW KNOW WHY the Bush administration hasn’t made the capture of Osama bin Laden a paramount goal of the war on terror. Emphasis on bin Laden doesn’t fit with the administration’s strategy for combating terrorism. Here’s how President Bush explained this Tuesday: “This thing about . . . let’s put 100,000 of our special forces stomping through Pakistan in order to find bin Laden is just simply not the strategy that will work.”

Getting bogged down in Iraq for a zillion years, however, is just the thing.

Rather, Bush says there’s a better way to stay on offense against terrorists. “The way you win the war on terror,” Bush said, “is to find people [who are terrorists] and get them to give you information about what their buddies are fixing to do.” In a speech last week, the president explained how this had worked–starting with the arrest and interrogation of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheik Muhammad–to break up a terrorist operation that was planning post-9/11 attacks on America.

Ah, yes, like the evil Jose Padilla plot. Excellent.

While we’ve mentioned Katrina, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz also compare the federal response to Katrina started and 9/11. I want to correct the implication in the last installment that the federal government hadn’t provided much help to New York in the early days after the attacks. It turns out that the U.S. Department of Health Center for Disease Control showed up and did some good work.–

While the World Trade Center was burning fiercely and about to become a vast cloud of toxic smoke and ash, public health officials were already mobilizing. Within hours, hospitals had readied themselves to receive the injured; hundreds of ambulances were lined up along the West Side Highway awaiting word to race to the scene; the city’s public health department had opened its headquarters to receive hundreds of people stricken by smoke inhalation, heart attacks, or just pure terror; the Department of Health had already begun providing gas masks and other protective equipment to doctors, evacuation personnel, and first responders of all sorts. From bandages and surgical tools to antibiotics and radiation-detection equipment, the federal Centers for Disease Control readied immense plane-loads of emergency supplies, ferrying them up to New York’s LaGuardia Airport aboard some of the few planes allowed to fly in the days after September 11th.

Despite the general panic and the staggering levels of destruction, even seemingly inconsequential or long-range potential health problems were attended to: Restaurants were broken into to empty thousands of pounds of rotting food from electricity-less refrigerators, counters tops, and refrigeration rooms; vermin infestations were averted; puddles were treated to stop mosquitoes from breeding so that West Nile virus would not affect the thousands of police, fire, and other search-and-rescue personnel working at Ground Zero.


It took no time at all for the administration to start systematically undercutting the efforts of experienced health administrators in New York and at the national Centers for Disease Control. By pressing them to return the city to “normal” and feeding them doctored information about dust levels — ignoring scientific uncertainties about the dangers that lingered in the air — the administration lied to support a national policy of denial.

Putting in place a dysfunctional bureaucracy would soon undermine the public’s trust in the whole health system in downtown Manhattan. In the process, it also effectively crippled systems already in existence to protect workers, local residents, and children attending school in the area. As a result, what promised to be an extraordinary example of a government bureaucracy actually working turned into a disaster and later became the de facto model for the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

However, this is getting a bit ahead of the story. We’ll come back to the lies about air quality at another time.

6 thoughts on “Ten Days After: Day Four

  1. I have always assumed that Bush couldn’t get to ground zero any earlier because they managed to get him to memorize his speech yet. Having seen his performance in the debates, it was already fairly clear that no one trusted him to extemporaize, and his mastery of memorization didn’t include conceptual absoption. They had a big job, and it’s amazing it only took three days.

  2. After the National Cathedral service was televised, I got into an argument with my brother. He said he didn’t think Gore could have done a better job than Bush at reassuring the nation. I told my brother he was an idiot. Fortunately, he changed his mind pretty quickly, and by the 2004 election was slapping “no W’ decals in his car windows. But style-over-substance seemed to count for everything in those first post-9/11 days, and fooled most of the people most of the time. It certainly lasted long enough to get us into the insanity of Iraq.

  3. I couldn’t help thinking about New Orleans (where the garbage is still not picked up) when I read this paragraph:

    “Despite the general panic and the staggering levels of destruction, even seemingly inconsequential or long-range potential health problems were attended to: Restaurants were broken into to empty thousands of pounds of rotting food from electricity-less refrigerators, counters tops, and refrigeration rooms; vermin infestations were averted; puddles were treated to stop mosquitoes from breeding so that West Nile virus would not affect the thousands of police, fire, and other search-and-rescue personnel working at Ground Zero.”

    I don’t know whether to be heartbroken or angry.

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