A decade later, 9/11 has finally brought the political parties together in this respect: They’ve both mastered the art of politicizing the terrorist attacks.
The painful events of Sept. 11, 2001, are less raw in the nation’s memory. Some of the visceral emotion of that day has faded. The meaning of 9/11 has changed, thanks to events such as the killing of Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.Continue Reading But the presence of 9/11 in politics is as profuse as ever. Most recently — days ahead of the 10th anniversary of the attacks — candidates in a New York congressional election have traded sharp accusations over who’s more committed to protecting the country from terrorism and supporting first responders.
Even as voters grow weary of the nation’s wartime footing, Democrats and Republicans continue to seek out opportunities to wield the memory of 9/11 for electoral gain — whether that means using the Guantanamo Bay detention center as a wedge issue, courting the support of firefighters and police or attacking a proposed Islamic center near ground zero.
In an interview with POLITICO, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said it’s inevitable that some level of politics would creep into conversations about 9/11.
“It’s hard to talk about Sept. 11 without making a reference to politics,” Giuliani said. “The minute you talk about the causes of it, it immediately becomes a political discussion — the minute you talk about what should be done about” the aftermath.
The man dubbed “America’s mayor” for his much-admired performance on the day of the attacks and in the months afterward should know. In 2007, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden mocked Giuliani’s campaign during a Democratic debate as boiling down to three words: “a noun, a verb and 9/11.”
Giuliani, who gave the weekly GOP radio address Saturday, called Biden’s comment a “cheap shot,” and defended the role the attacks played in a campaign focused on strong leadership and national security.
“I’ve tried very hard not to politicize Sept. 11, particularly around the time of 9/11, but it’s almost impossible not to be criticized for politicizing it because it’s a political event,” Giuliani said. “You’d almost have to not talk about it in any meaningful way not to be subjected to those people with whom you disagree with [about] the causes of it thinking you’re politicizing it.”
Democrats rolled their eyes over Giuliani’s terrorism rhetoric for years, just as Republicans sought him out as a surrogate. But just a few months ago, President Barack Obama embraced him as a 9/11 symbol in his own right, placing a phone call to the former mayor after U.S. forces killed bin Laden in a Pakistani hideout.
Obama also asked Giuliani to squire him around New York City, visiting a firehouse, meeting with Sept. 11 victims’ relatives — many of whom have relationships with the former mayor — and laying a wreath before the 16 acres of devastation at the World Trade Center site.
Giuliani’s far from the only New Yorker to become associated with 9/11-related issues in a political context — Hillary Clinton, George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg have all had their moments related to the attacks.
And some candidates have used the topic in far more blatantly exploitative terms.