The surrealistic horror of the attacks helped make it easy to overlook Bush's underlying constellation of deep personal flaws, to ignore the increasingly evident mendacity and discount his unabashedly cavalier attitude about all things intellectual.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Bush's non-cognitive, hyper-macho, pseudo-cowboy persona seemed in precise alignment with the inherent twin yearnings for naked retribution and military vindication --- emotion-fed desires that clouded the nation's collective judgment.
Nearly six years later, look where that has gotten America.
Now we have Rudy Giuliani, crowned "America's Mayor" due, oddly enough, to his chaotic, disjointed and (to me, at least) scatterbrained, yet highly visible real-time trek through a New York City under attack. Giuliani's ubiquity that day, of course, was in obvious contrast to Bush's "where's Waldo?" vanishing act that went on for hours into the crisis.
While many picture Rudy's 911 travails as theatrically heroic, others believe it revealed Giuliani, whom TIME magazine named "Person of the Year" in 2001, to be at least as fraudulent and empty a candidate for president as Bush ever was. While both views may be open for debate, the fortuitous connection between 911 and the resurrection (and in Bush's case, eventual destruction) of the two men's political careers, is wholly inarguable.
Nevertheless, despite Giuliani's still-present 911 after-glow, the former Mayor of New York City and U.S. Attorney still has dirty linen in his political closet with which to contend. Regardless of the mythic persona that developed around Rudy in 911's aftermath --- which is the obvious selling point of his candidacy and linchpin to his future in politics --- questions persist about his competency or lack thereof, when it comes to managing whether in and out of a crisis. As the campaign heats up, Rudy will be forced to confront these questions and should be required to provide reasonable answers. Some of the questions that need answers include:
Why did Rudy, prior to 911, fail to comprehend that New York City was a prime target for terrorist attack and therefore consider establishing a counter terrorism strategy for his city?
In the book, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 911, authors Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins point out that Giuliani hadn't bothered to even discuss terror threats facing New York -- much less lay out any sort of counter terrorism blueprint with key officials -- until after the 911 attacks. According to the writers, despite the fact that the World Trade Center had been previously attacked, the Giuliani administration had not coordinated a single inter-departmental emergency drill at the Towers nor had a system of command and control policies in place for evacuating fires in high-rise buildings.
Why did Rudy insist that the city's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) be housed in of all places, the previously attacked World Trade Center?
Some might consider this as perhaps the most alarming example of insouciance on the part of Giuliani regarding potential terror threats facing his city. It is appallingly mind-boggling that someone of Giuliani's law enforcement background would consider situating the OEM which Rudy grandiloquently labeled, "The Bunker" on the 23rd floor of Number 7 World Trade Center, which, even prior to the 1993 attack, was widely considered one of the world's most likely terror targets.
Why did Rudy, on the day of the attacks, order fire and police department command posts set up at separate locations?
Giuliani's unfathomable ignorance of a cardinal rule of emergency response tactics unified first responder command posts, also raises questions about his ability to manage. Once the attack rendered the OEM bunker in the WTC useless, Giuliani, in a decision widely regarded as having caused the communication breakdown between the two emergency response departments, decided to establish separate police and fire department command posts. The 911 Commission Report points out that communication lapses were the major cause of scores of unnecessary casualties, particularly among firefighters who, due to the communication breakdowns, were unaware that an evacuation order had been issued. The separation of the two crucial response operations also explains why so often, televised images of the Giuliani that day, showed him walking the streets along with then-Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. The Mayor, literally, was walking from command post to command post during the height of the crisis. Perhaps not the best way to manage during such a time.
Did financial considerations trump health concerns thus lead you to downplay the toxicitylevel of the air around Lower Manhattan and prematurely reopen the Financial District?
Tons of pulverized concrete, asbestos, glass, lead, mercury, even human remains created air in Lower Manhattan that was, according to University of California Professor Thomas Cahill, an expert on air pollution, "wildly toxic" for months. Yet, less than a week later -- September 17-- with Ground Zero still smoldering, Rudy reopened Wall Street and the rest of the Financial District. While hindsight is indeed, 20-20, an ounce of prevention may have gone a long way. I'd be remiss were I not to point out, however, the role that a heavily sanitized air quality report issued by then-Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman (along with her own statements attesting to air quality safety) played in Rudy's decision. Part of that EPA report however, does hand off key decision making discretion to "New York City officials." Be that as it may, the adverse effect on the health of workers and others in and around Ground Zero, resulting in part, from Rudy's decision to quickly reopen the Financial District, clearly reveals the imprudence of such a hasty move. Today, as a result of all the illnesses and deaths from respiratory ailments clearly linked to that environment, scores of lawsuits have been filed against the City of New York.
Questions about Temperament
Beyond these obvious chinks in Rudy's political armor there is also the issue of temperament. It's important to be reminded that by September 11, 2001, Giuliani was nearing the end of a tense, second term noteworthy for its political squabbles, corruption investigations and racial polarization within the city. The feeling among many within political circles was that New Yorkers had become fed up with Rudy. In the days just prior to the attack, the lame-duck Mayor was widely viewed as headed for political obscurity.
In the synopsis for the 2006 documentary film Giuliani Time, filmmaker Kevin Keating commented on what might be called "Rudy Fatigue," wrote the following: "The long-term consequences of policing strategies like "stop and frisk," "zero tolerance" and "broken windows" ... came under intense criticism. (Giuliani's) record on the First Amendment was disastrous and his use and abuse of governmental power well documented."
Today, however, many polls show a post-911 Giuliani enjoying extraordinarily high favorability ratings (a recent Rasmussen Report poll shows Rudy's favorable/unfavorable rating at 70/20). It remains to be seen whether that impressive ratio will hold should he portray during the campaign, the same peevish and petty nature that helped him wear out his welcome in New York.
Certainly African-American voters, for example, with whom the GOP continues a courtship, and for whom the phrase, "Giuliani Time," harkens images of a Rudy Giuliani which contrasts sharply with the mythical hero of 911, are unlikely to have warmed up to a Mayor so apparently insensitive that he saw little benefit in sitting down for talks with the city's black leaders after the 1999 police killing of an unarmed African immigrant shot 41 times. Nor are they likely to pass on Rudy's lack of empathy for a Haitian man who was beaten and sodomized by an officer using his "service baton" in a New York police station bathroom in 1997.
Meanwhile, some voters may consider pedomorphic, Giuliani's expulsion of Yasser Arafat from a 1995 celebration at the Lincoln Center honoring the founding of the United Nations, as well they might his unilateral rejection in 2001 of a $10 million check donated by Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdulaziz to victims of the 911 attacks.
As the campaign develops, the issues of temperament, overall management style along with major questions about Giuliani's 911-related shortcomings will be laid bare for all to see and assess. It's unlikely to be pretty picture for those who have yet to comprehend the illusory nature of Giuliani's "heroics" during 911.
As is the norm in traditional primary politics, the political sweet potato for the other side, in this case of course, the Democrats, is that Giuliani's Republican opponents will be the ones who do the initial dirty work. They will be tasked with unfurling the curtain currently surrounding Giuliani's inadequacies during fratricidal in-fighting for the nomination and, ultimately, the right to lead their party to what now seems likely defeat.
A candidate like former POW, Arizona Senator John McCain, perhaps citing the examples of crisis management malpractice outlined above, will challenge Rudy's fitness as a true terror warrior.
Meanwhile, a candidate like former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a highly successful venture capitalist, will question Rudy's overall competency as a manager.
Those issues aside, Rudy's chances of securing the nomination hinge upon his winning key primaries in the South, a region where his Italian heritage, Catholic upbringing, pro-abortion stance, support for gay civil unions, haziness on the issue of gun control, fairly liberal immigration position and overall "urban values" aura combine to create a daunting additional set of obstacles to be overcome.
So while in the long run (i.e., the general election), Rudy may do well in northern and mid-western states, in the short run (i.e., the Republican primaries), he's got to win the South. To do so, Rudy will have to play the 911 card for all it's worth, and, play it with a vengeance.
With that in mind, it would be recklessly shortsighted for Americans of any region to allow themselves to become re-swept up in post-911 thinking to the extent that it inspires wholly irrational choices be it duct-taping the exterior of one's home for protection against an al Qaeda bio attack or handing a vote for Commander in Chief to someone whose strongest claim to the White House is that 911 happened on his watch in his city.
One could perhaps go on. The bottom line however, is this. Rudy's obtuse, questionably competent and polarizing managerial style, stubborn, recalcitrant, petty disposition, and an apparent insecurity that seems to foster the need to come off macho, comprise the profile of a figure strikingly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House.
For me, that's a bit scary.
I don't know about you, but I'm Bushed.