The Politics of September 11th: From Agreement to Discord

PHOTO: Ground Zero on 9/11
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Ten years ago, in the days, weeks, and months after Sept. 11, 2001, the country and government came together. Democrats and Republicans worked together to ease a scared nation, but also out of fear that not doing so would get them labeled unpatriotic. Bipartisan approval for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reigned. You rarely heard the word "deficit," and money was poured into not only those wars, but to build the Department of Homeland Security.

Now, the government is bitterly divided. What happened?

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, took to the Senate floor Thursday to call for a return to the bipartisanship and cooperation after Sept. 11.

"What we were able to achieve then in terms of common purpose and effective collective action provides us with a model for action that we in Washington must strive to emulate and even if just in part, even if just sporadically to re-create," Schumer said.

On issues like the $20 billion aid package to New York, the controversial Patriot Act, or approval for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both sides of the aisle gave a green light.

"To his credit, President Bush did not for one second think about the electoral map or political implication of supporting New York. He asked what we needed and he came through," Schumer said. "If, God forbid, another 9/11-like attack were to happen tomorrow, would our national political system respond with the same unity, non-recrimination, common purpose and effective policy action in the way that it did just ten years ago? Or are our politics now so petty, fanatically ideological, polarized and partisan that we would instead descend into blame and brinkmanship, and direct our fire inward, and fail to muster the collective will to act in the interests of the American people?"

From the Age of Terrorism to the Age of Austerity and Division

In what she calls a "backhanded compliment to bipartisanship," Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute says the American public gives high approval to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama on their handling of terrorism.

"What's absolutely clear is in a time so critical of Washington, the public has given high marks to the presidents of both parties -- George W. Bush for making the country safe and they gave Barack Obama high marks for keeping the country safe," Bowman said, who recently authored a study "The War on Terror: Ten Years of Polls on American Attitudes."

With the economy being the number one issue on Americans' minds, Bowman says terrorism has receded significantly as an area of concern.

"I think terrorism wouldn't recede as an issue if they didn't feel the government made them safe," Bowman said.

But what about the dynamic between the president and congress?

James Lindsay, senior vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, worked at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He says the attacks of Sept. 11 "triggered a dynamic as old as the American Republic."

"When the country is under attack and facing a national crisis, power gravitates away from Congress to the president, partly because Americans believe that during times of crisis strong leadership is needed," Lindsay told ABC News. "Also, during times of crisis it's politically safe to rally behind the president. They fear any critique of the White House is taken as an unpatriotic act. That rally around the flag gives enormous power to the president and that power persists as long as the crisis persists."

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