Leadership and 9/11


The outcry over the first series of political commercials for President George W. Bush was swift and heartfelt. Using images of victims of the 9/11 attacks and firefighters responding to the emergency at the World Trade Center, the ads trumpeted President Bush’s “steady” leadership. Families of the victims and representatives of the firefighters charged that the White House is using 9/11 to advance a political agenda. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to deflect this criticism by emphasizing that Bush’s leadership has been steady. But the commercials themselves beg the question: What did President Bush do on 9/11? Giuliani himself framed the Bush question this way: “His leadership on that day is central to his record.”

Over the weekend that followed initial broadcast of the Bush campaign commercials both sides took positions on the appropriateness of their content. Democrats protested the imagery. President Bush, who in January 2002, when seeking an extra budget appropriation for his war on terrorism, had told congressional leaders, “I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue,” backed away from that undertaking. From his Crawford, Texas, ranch on March 6 Bush declared, “I will continue to speak about the effects of 9/11 on our country and my presidency.” Echoing Rudy Giuliani, Bush added, “how this administration handled that day, as well as the war on terror, is worthy of discussion.”

A leader marches to the sound of the guns. George Washington, Robert E. Lee or Napoleon would have done that. Rudy Giuliani did do that. After the first plane struck the Twin Towers, he went immediately to the World Trade Center and helped supervise emergency efforts there. But what exactly did George W. Bush do?

The short answer is, “he stayed the hell away from New York and Washington.” My question is, was it because he was physically afraid, or was it because he couldn’t handle the sudden responsibility of dealing with something of that magnitude?

For another perspective on that day, check this out.