Jewish World Review May 30, 2002 / 19 Sivan, 5762
Not the details -- not the specific revelation that President Bush was told in advance that Osama bin Laden's network was planning to hijack U.S. jetliners. That revelation was not predictable.
But what has quickly followed -- the dividing of politicians into enemy camps, the finger-pointing and blame-placing -- was always just a breath or two away. You knew we'd be here eventually -- you knew we'd be back to the old ways of doing the nation's business. Bipartisanship? Speaking with one voice? Come on. It was nice while it lasted. The only surprise was that it lasted as long as it did.
If I were working for the White House or the Republican National Committee, I could very easily write for them a response to this new controversy:
"Yes, of course we knew that there were threats of hijackings. The whole country has known that for more than 30 years. Unfortunately, someone somewhere is always going to want to hijack an airplane. This is precisely the reason we have metal detectors and X-ray machines in every airport, and why we have had them there for years. We could never have known exactly what was planned for Sept. 11-- and for anyone to suggest otherwise is close to treason. They should be ashamed of themselves for making such a suggestion."
If I were working for the Democratic National Committee, I could very easily write a response to the same controversy:
"For months now the president and the White House have been assuring the American people that they are sharing every bit of pertinent information that we can all use to protect ourselves. So to find out now that the president himself was warned before Sept. 11 about bin Laden's plans -- and that he and his administration failed to pass that warning on to the citizens of the United States -- is shocking and appalling. Why did the president wait until a news organization reported this to acknowledge these facts? Why did he not tell us in the days immediately after Sept. 11-- not to mention the days immediately before? In a time when all Americans are asked to trust their national leaders, this is deeply troubling -- and a reason to question that trust."
Because I work for neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, though, I would write neither of those paragraphs. Instead I would say -- I will say -- that in the long term, the most important thing to come out of this will have nothing to do with bin Laden or Sept. 11-- the most important thing will be that the last few days represent the official return to our old, openly factional and contentious ways.
This started forming even before the hijack news reports. Earlier last week, Republicans and Democrats began to punch at each other about the Republican National Committee's use of a Sept. 11-related photo to solicit contributions. The photo -- of Bush aboard Air Force One that day, calling Vice President Dick Cheney -- is being offered, along with two others, to Republican donors.
If I were working for the Democrats, I could write their response:
"This is the ultimate betrayal of trust by a cynical White House. President Bush assured all Americans in the days after Sept. 11 that he would not use the events for political gain. In asking us to come together as one country, he repeatedly said that the war on terror must be kept separate from politics. Yet here he is, allowing his party to sell a Sept. 11 photo to Republican donors. Down through the nation's history, presidents have made appeals during wartime for citizens to buy War Bonds. This is a first -- a president, during wartime, using a war photo to solicit money for one party. It's a sad day."
If I were working for the Republicans, I could write their response:
"We're very proud of our president, and what he is doing both at home and abroad. It never occurred to us that, by including a photo of him aboard the presidential aircraft, we would be inviting the president's antagonists in the Democratic Party to attack us in such a low and unpatriotic way. For the record: Yes, we chose to include the photo of the president aboard Air Force One; yes, we knew he was talking to the vice president in the photo; and yes, we are grateful for the tireless and honorable job he has done not just since Sept. 11, but every day of his presidency. We are not surprised that the Democrats object -- if we were they, we, too, would be depressed that the nation admires and respects this Republican president so much."
Because I work for neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, I would write neither of those paragraphs. Instead I would -- I will -- say:
We've been here before -- to this place of political sniping. In a way, it's the place where we're most at ease. This is not the aberration -- the months of alleged collegiality following Sept. 11 were the aberration. This may be nasty and bitter -- but it's home. It's where we live, politically, and always have.
Meanwhile, no one seems to know where bin Laden may be. And those anthrax
letters: Who sent them?