The bipartisan 9/11 commission was careful not to blame individuals or draw political consequences from the events. The media have also come to the speedy conclusion that no one was really to blame. (And as an emergency back-up, they have also concluded that Clinton and Bush were equally to blame. As I said below, it’s as if they failed keep score and called the game a tie.)
So that part of the job is left to us — the politicization, which the commission was forbidden by its charter to do. In free countries you have political parties, and issues tend to become politicized in a partisan way. Countries where this does not happen are called dictatorships. The Republicans have already done a tremendous job of politicizing 9/11 — the War on Terror is practically the only thing Bush has to run on.
We Democrats are playing catch-up. Bush’s wretched counter-terrorism performance before 9/11, as revealed especially in Chapter 8 of the report, is a legitimate political issue.
One man’s “fingerpointing” is another man’s accountability. Certainly the worst thing we can do with the 9/11 issue is to conclude that “mistakes were made” — no one’s to blame, everyone’s to blame, and Clinton and Bush were equally to blame. That’s more or less what the commission said, but they had to say that. The facts they gave us are not so nonpartisan.
But suppose I make the Republicans an offer. And I’ll go first, too: from here on out, I’m not going to defend Clinton’s performance. You can have Clinton. Hang him high. But you can’t defend Bush either. Deal?
I don’t think so. The 9/11 issue is going to be politicized, and that is as it should be. Bush is going to have to defend his record against Kerry.
And that seems sort of unfair, since Kerry has never been President and doesn’t have a record on counter-terrorism. But that’s OK, because Bush (whose pre-Presidential record was short and skimpy) has been going through Kerry’s 30-year political record with a fine-tooth comb for a year now, looking for waffles and flipflops. Bush didn’t waffle much during his short career because he hardly did anything. His Presidential record is all he’s got, and 9/11 is the biggest part of it. (And sometimes, you know, if a pitcher is really stinking up the place, you pull him in put in someone else just to see what they can do).
We still do have a democratic two-party system in this country. Let the wild rumpus begin!