Skip to comments.Bush, in the rubble, rises to the occasion
Posted on 09/15/2001 6:41:36 AM PDT by Clive
NEW YORK - To the malevolent and still smouldering heart of the very city that in other days has mocked him most cruelly as Dubya, the clown president both curiously privileged and unaccomplished, George Bush arrived yesterday afternoon.
He wore one of those little beige windbreakers that American dads have always donned on weekends to signify that now they are at home, with the family.
Again and again, he flashed a thumbs-up, that dated gesture most often seen on this country's playing fields, to a huddled mass of firefighters.
He kept a constant arm around a tremulous fireman who was at his side, and when Mr. Bush was moving through the throng of rescuers, he shook about 400 hands and patted hundreds more of strong and unbent backs, as though he simply could not bear to go long without the warmth of human touch.
The President clambered onto a great mound of debris -- more than 10,400 tons of this grim rubble already has been removed from the World Trade Center crime scene -- grabbed a bullhorn and began to speak to the men with the lousiest job in the world, those sifting through buckets in which are both the remains of a nation's innocents and the shards of her innocence.
These men began to raise their fists and chant, that chorus heard on Olympic podiums and that so often has irritated even America's friends, "USA! USA! USA!"
"I can hear you!" President Bush said into his bullhorn.
The crowd of rescue workers, fire, police and volunteers, wretched and wet under rubber coats and hard hats, roared.
"The rest of the world hears you," he said, to more cheers and hoots.
"And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"
It was another president, Abraham Lincoln, who said, of moments when the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present, "The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise to the occasion."
It seems this 55-year-old man who looked so small, wounded and stricken may be doing just that.
For many Americans, the moment of truth may be found in this picture of Mr. Bush, thumb cocked in fetid air.
For others, it will be the sight of their Commander-in-Chief yesterday waving a small U.S. flag from the platform he carved for himself, like the country boy he is at bottom, smack in the middle of the most enormous and evil dump on Earth.
Some will find it in the magnificent speech the President gave yesterday morning at the National Cathedral in Washington, on the day he proclaimed one of remembrance and prayer, and that saw the sound of military boots on hard floor mix with the peal of church bells and the sweet voices of a children's choir.
There, Mr. Bush invoked "those who in their last moments called home to say 'Be brave' and 'I love you,'" "passengers who defied their murderers," men "who wore the uniforms of the United States and died at their posts" and "the ones whom death found running up the stairs and into the fires to help others."
Now come the names, he said, and "We will read all these names and linger over them and learn their stories, and many Americans will weep."
In the grace of the lost and those who now labour to reclaim them, Mr. Bush said, America sees a reflection of her national character. "Our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave."
He seemed oblivious to the fact that he too provides just such a mirror.
Even as this event has begun, as such things now inevitably must, to become a prisoner of the great god of American television -- with melodrama replacing drama, emotion losing ground to sentiment, patriotism morphing to jingoism, photogenic makeshift memorials springing up like the weeds they are, in parks and city squares and relief centres -- Mr. Bush remains oddly genuine. He is, almost hopelessly, himself.
W., as the clever New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd used to call him, is no friend of the camera, nor it of him.
The front page of yesterday's Daily News showed him in the Oval Office with collapsed face, his mouth in the upside-down U that seemed until yesterday, when he often smiled sadly and occasionally with delight, a new and permanent etching.
The picture was from the day before, when a reporter at a press conference had asked the President how he was managing the crisis, you know, personally.
It is the same sort of question television journalists have begun, on air, to ask one another, as if working a 12-hour shift in a nice suit and high heels, from a position of safety with an accompanying crew of minions, might take a toll remotely comparable to that being extracted from the rescue workers whose fingers are elbow-high in the flesh and bone of real people.
Mr. Bush's eyes that day filled with tears. He was embarrassed by the question, as ordinary Americans would be.
"I don't think about myself right now," he said.
"I think about the families, the children. I am a loving guy and I am also someone, however, who has a job to do, and I intend to do it."
Then, surely astonishing to this country which had grown accustomed to Bill Clinton, who like many of his generation is most comfortable when personalizing the gravest national calamity and speaking of the self, Mr. Bush turned his back to the television cameras and simply walked away.
Can anyone imagine Mr. Clinton having done this? Indeed, even yesterday, in the front row at the National Cathedral where he had been graciously seated alongside Mr. Bush and his family, the former president simply could not stop himself and the television cameras were irresistibly drawn to him again, to those large and familiar gestures of grief -- the sombre shaking of his great head at a poignant hymn; the grand clutching of his daughter Chelsea's hand.
Mr. Bush's, by contrast, were small.
Almost imperceptibly, he would from time to time nod. A soft smile would play upon that mouth, so narrow by comparison to Mr. Clinton's fleshier one. He held the First Lady's hand with gentleness. When he finished his speech, and took his seat again, and his father, the former president George Bush, reached out a warm hand in congratulations, Mr. Bush acknowledged it with a faint crisp nod and did not look at him. Not for this president the exaggeration of private moments and thoughts that translates so brilliantly on the small screen.
It makes his purported frailties endearing: So he hasn't travelled widely or been to Europe; neither have most Americans, even most New Yorkers, those who live in the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx. So he is no intellectual; neither are most human beings. So he wears on his face his shifting emotions and, faced with the outrageousness of a question designed to allow him to talk about himself, remembers the children who lost their parents.
It was a German playwright, Friedrich von Schiller, who wrote, hundreds of years ago in another Republican drama, "Did you think the lion was sleeping because he didn't roar?" Did Americans believe the lion was sleeping because he was a sleepy-seeming Texan?
They know better now: The 43rd President, as he walked through the crash site yesterday, past the huge earth-moving machines and under cranes that soared to the skies, entirely unself-conscious, unaware of the lone television camera that followed him, never posing and content to look dwarfed by the nature of what surrounded him, was, oddly, where he belonged.
Leave it to the foreign journalists to say what our U.S. mediots still don't get. This was what I was hoping to read today. I read today's Washington Post and it barely acknowledged what the rest of the world has obviously discovered: we have a REAL president now, a President who knows this is no time for grandstanding, for tears-on-cue, for false gestures and shallow thoughts of himself. A man who is sure of himself and of the job he has to do. A man who knows that speaking directly to the real America is far more important than pleasing the commentariat. Praise God, we have the right man in the job.
Must have mis-spelled or transposed letters. I am one of very few dislexic lawyers in the world.
Please, everyone, use coteblanche's thread so we all get our remarks in one thread. Her's is the earlier.
Use the link in reply number 6.
Contrast this with Clinton's photo-op the day before at the "Family Center".
And you are so very right to be proud of him.
God bless our president and God Bless America.
Brings tears to my eyes..May God have mercy on us and heal our land!
"glad that we don't have Clinton or Gore at the helm..."
My jaw almost dropped down the floor. Pressing harder to find out what she meant by being glad not having her liberal idols as POTUS, she eventually noted that "W is NOT acting in time of crisis, what you see is what you got..." I almost screamed "TOLD YA SO".