I had not planned to write about September 11. As a historian, however, I am inclined to want as many people to write about their experiences as possible. One can only presume that future historians will have access to blog content. The more voices and perspectives they have, the better their work will turn out. Trust me – as I search out ever scrap of paper that I can find from the Taos Rebellion of 1847, particularly from Mexicans’ perspectives, I want life to be easier for other history folk.
Still, I an not inclined at this moment to write about my own day for whatever reasons. As a result, I planned to let the day go by with a quiet respect for those who suffered.
I just can’t stomach, however, Georgie Bush trying to use September 11 for his own political gain yet again. For twenty-two minutes last night, Bushie dishonored the nation with his thinly veiled effort to build consensus behind his administration’s disastrous foreign policy. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who thinks that George Bush is the last person to be able to claim a moral authority or sense of leadership from September 11. Then I find that Keith Olbermann’s scrotum apparently contains balls of granite. More than any of our pitiful elected officials, Olbermann talks about the anger that many Americans feel.
Nobody ever wants to point out Bush’s failures on that day. Given how much Bush likes to sell himself as the center of 9/11, why doesn’t anybody ever remember his actual actions on that day? Democrats long ago proved themselves uwilling or unable to criticize the President. Thus, they are constantly surprised when an angry public rejects them (I am looking at you, Mr. Liberman).
Unlike the everyday people in New York, Washington D.C., or on board the hijacked planes, who showed personal heroism, Bush revealed his true inner character as a pitiful coward. Bush was not a leader – Indeed, I think that Bush is responsible for making September 11 even worse by disappearing for almost the entire day. Rumors abound that even George Bush, Sr. expressed disappointment at his son’s dishonorable behavior on September 11.
Bush’s slow response at Booker Elementary School took a prominent place in Michael Moore’s film about the event. Famously, Bush sat dumbfounded and quite obviously out of his league.
Yet, even Moore shied away from pointing out the President’s even more reprehensible actions for the rest of the day. Like everybody, I sat glued to the television. I remember clearly watching Air Force One leave Florida. I always despised Bush. Nothing would change that. As I saw the 747 leave the airfield, though, I admit that I felt some relief.
See – There is a certain script to national crises. It doesn’t really matter who holds the office, but Presidents are just supposed to perform certain actions. As a show of leadership and national strength, the President must return to Washington, D.C., the center of government, during an event of that magnitude. “Even if he is a horrible President,” I thought, “at least he is doing that.”
It turns out, though, I was way off by a long, long mile. Bushie did not return to Washington, D.C. He simply disappeared for hours and hours. Unknown to the public, Bush ordered Air Force One to circle Sarasota Florida so that he could decide whether or not it was safe for him to go back to the Capitol. From 9:57 am to 10:32 am, Air Force One simply went in circles.
Secret Service always assumes the worst case scenario. Their goal is to keep the President and other key leaders safe. As a result, they will give the most conservative advice possible. That’s their job. We should not be surprised, therefore, that they suggested that Bush stay clear of Washington, D.C.
Indeed, Secret Service often gives this advice to presidents during moments of turmoil. John Kennedy heard that he should leave the Capitol during the Cuban Missel Crisis. The Secret Service feared for Franklin Roosevelt’s safety in the White House during World War II.
It’s the job of a leader, however, to set aside his own personal safety in favor of the greater good. He or she has to understand that upon taking that type of job, you no longer can think of your own individual safety. As President, you are a key symbol and must show the strength and determination of the public. As Commander-in-Chief, you need to be willing to lose your life if you are to ask any soldier to lose theirs. JFK did not leave even as the threat of nuclear attack seemed imminent. Roosevelt added some black drapes to the White House so it would not be as visible at night, but buckled down for the long haul. Abraham Lincoln refused to depart when the White House stood literally miles from the battle front. Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Harry Truman, but he stayed put. That’s just what presidents do.
Bush, however, was never presidential material. His entire life history showed that he only thought of himself and rarely did anything that required actual courage. Yet, I am still amazed that at 10:32 am on September 11, George Bush, Jr. decided to run away from the horrific events of that day and protect himself. The blue jet veered away from Florida and set a course the opposite direction of the White House.
At 11:45 am, Air Force One landed at Barksdale Airforce Base near Shreveport, Louisiana. At 12:30 pm, Bush taped a short speech. He looked dreadful and close to tears. They were not, though, tears of mourning. Rather, he looked to me like he was crying for himself and his own fear. Not surprisingly, I could not find a video clip of this moment. It really doesn't fit with the adminstration's revised version of that day.
This time around, Bush apparently decided there were too many witnesses to his personal failures. After stocking-up on the Depends, he ordered almost all of the press off of the presidential jet, leaving them stranded in Louisiana. At 1:30pm, he departed and eventually flew to Nebraska. I began to wonder, is Bush trying to make a run for Canada? Is he on the verge of simply abdicating and we will never hear from him again?
He landed at Offutt, Nebrasaka at 3:00pm and immediately went deep into a bunker designed to withstand a nuclear blast. Sitting 1,392 miles from the Capitol, Bush hid in his underground cubby hole for hours. People expected him to give another speech or statement to reassure a grief-stricken nation. He did not.
Eventually, public outcry reached the White House. Karen Hughes and Karl Rove concocted elaborate stories about Air Force One having had terrorist threats. By September 27, 2001, The Washington Post proved that the White House fabricated these stories in order to explain Bush’s cowardice.
Some people like to say, "Give him a break. He is only human. What would you have done?" See, the problem with that being that I am not the President of the United States. I am just a guy with a blog. Still, I am tired of a man who wants unquestioned devotion when he has shown no signs of real leadership. We are supposed to expect more of our president than ourselves.
Bush did not actually return to the White House until ten hours after the first attack. During that time, panic throughout the nation increased. Though Bush loves to talk about standing on rubble with a bullhorn, he did not get to New York City until three days after the attack. In contrast, former President Clinton and Al Gore (the man who actually won the popular vote in 2000) both made immediate arrangements to reach New York City.
Maybe we can set aside that Bush simply didn’t care about the nation, but he didn’t even seem to care about the people that he allegedly loved. During his zig-zagging across the U.S., Bush seemed indifferent to his wife’s location. She, unlike him, was at the White House throughout the day. The White House being the place Bush desperately avoided going. Nor did he care about his daughters. Did he ever ask about their safety as he went into his bomb proof bunker? All he thought about was saving his own pitiful ass.
However we judge John F. Kennedy today, he, unlike Bush, understood the role of the Presidency as more than an individual. He ultimately traded his life for the job. “A man does what he must,” Kennedy wrote, “in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.” Based on this criteria, we can see Bush’s reaction to September 11 as not only cowardly, but immoral.
Bush wants us to judge his administration using September 11. Okay, say I, let us judge him from the moment it occurred. For me, his decision to run away and hide in the midst of catastrophe will always be the defining moment of his life.