NEW YORK — As the Republicans prepare to take their turn on the convention stage, Democrats are already urging them not to “politicize” the 9/11 attacks. It’s not clear what would constitute politicization, but anything that reminds Americans that the perpetrator was Osama bin Laden and not George Bush would probably qualify.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who usually spends his time prosecuting successful business executives, warned the Republicans last week: “Do not dare use 9/11 for political purposes…Do not go there. We will not allow it.” (Will he subpoena Republicans who mention 9/11?) Spitzer then proceeded to go there, lambasting the President for opposing the creation of the 9/11 Commission and citing the intelligence and coordination failures described in the Commission’s report.
Senator Clinton, too, warned President Bush that he better not talk about 9/11 too much, or show too many images. “It has to be done in a careful way or people will think he’s exploiting it,” she told the New York Post. She didn’t indicate who these people were, but a fair guess would include Democrats and certain broadcast media outlets. You know, the People.
Hillary’s warning comes at an unusual time, when 9/11 images seem to have all but disappeared from the public domain. As Byron York pointed out in a recent National Review article, you can get Abu Ghraib photos by the truckload, but good luck seeing broadcast footage of the worst attack ever on American soil.
In Boston, it was hard to find words alluding to 9/11, let alone images. Senator Clinton’s speech mentioned the attacks in the context of the Democrats’ favorite First Responders, a misnomer if there ever was one. With any justice to language, they would be called Last Responders. Clinton called for more homeland security funding and better pay for the military, police, and firefighters. Pay raises may well be justified, but only Democrats think higher salaries can prevent terrorist attacks.
Senator Kerry’s speech was not much better. After spending the primary campaign talking about terrorism as primarily a law enforcement matter, he bowed to centrism and referred to the situation as a war. As Bob Dole would say, whatever. It was clearly just words; there was no explanation of why this war was different or what the enemy desired in starting it. Kerry mentioned 9/11 to evoke the unity that Americans had had for a time, a unity that was destroyed, he implied, by President Bush and his misadventure in Iraq.
Kerry may have called it a war, but his strategy for how to wage it is pure September 10th: “Today, our national security begins with homeland security,” he said. It begins at the end, in other words. “I will never hesitate to use force when it is required,” he insisted. When would that be? His answer: “Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response.” What a relief; he’ll do something if they do something. But what would he do in the meantime?
THE BOSTON DEMOCRATS ONCE again lived up to the old joke: “A liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.” It’s no surprise that they want to preempt a discussion of how this war started. For them, such a discussion is an imminent threat. Their eagerness to prevent it should be understood as an admission of weakness, akin to their slightly panicked demonstration of patriotism at the convention.
You don’t keep insisting that you’re patriotic unless there is some doubt that you are; and you don’t plead for silence on one of the most momentous events in American history unless you have nothing effective to say about it.
This became clear last winter, when the Bush campaign unveiled its first set of ads, one of which used a brief image of Ground Zero. Immediately, the Democrats cried foul, and the ads were quickly pulled. If the Republicans are going to back down this easily, then the entire discussion of 9/11 will be on liberal terms: little or no reference to the monstrous deeds of al Qaeda, but plenty of talk about inadequate funding, intelligence failures, the mystical importance of France to our national security, and the evils of John Ashcroft.
The Republicans need to take the stage in New York and remind the country what happened on September 11th, and not just by invoking the date devoid of context, as the Democrats did. They’re going to have to reawaken the horror of that day and make clear that we remain in grave danger. They should not shrink from showing pictures to the American people of what may well be the central event of this generation.
If Bush is a war president, then he should campaign like one. Democrats will accuse him of exploiting 9/11 no matter what he says anyway, so let the exploiting begin.