The Politics of September 11th: From Agreement to Discord

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 has given high marks to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama on the topic 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.”



GOP Challenger Pulls Ahead in Race for Weiner’s Spot

There is grim news today for the White House and the Democratic Party in the special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s vacated congressional seat in New York.


Although Democrats hold a  three to one registration advantage over Republicans in the district, Republican Bob Turner has opened a lead, grabbing 50 percent, compared with  44 percent for Democrat David Weprin, among likely voters, according to a new Siena Research Institute poll.


Weprin stood at 48 percent and Turner 42 percent  in a Siena poll taken one month ago.


The election is next Tuesday.


A Turner victory would be an ominous sign for Democrats and President Obama’s re-election campaign, as the district, which  spans  Brooklyn and Queens, is filled with the kind of white, middle-class, usually reliable Democratic voters that the president  needs in his corner to get re-elected.


But the poll found voters in the district are down on the president, and the direction of the country.


Forty-three percent have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion, according to the poll.  Nineteen percent believe the U.S. is on the  right track, ” while 74 percent say the country is on the wrong track. Both sets of numbers are largely unchanged from a month ago.


What has changed is the voters’ views of the candidates: Weprin’s unfavorable ratings shot up, to 41 percent, from 24 percent a month ago. And by a 43-32 percent margin, likely voters say Turner is running the more positive campaign


“It’s a perfect storm for Turner and the Republicans,” said Steven Greenberg, a spokesman for the Siena Research Institute.


Sensing the seat could be slipping away, the national Democratic Party has begun pouring money into the race – including a $500,000 infusion this week from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Even if Weprin can pull out a victory, it is still an enormous expenditure in an election Democrats once believed was a lock.


With the possibility of a monumental upset now within reach, the Republican National Committee answered with an email appeal this afternoon seeking donations, saying the money was needed because “the Obama Democrats just put $500,000 into the race to defeat Bob Turner and keep this seat in their liberal hands.”


“We have a strong conservative candidate in Bob Turner who has the opportunity to win a congressional seat in the heart of New York City,” party Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in the email. “He is facing a career politician who will vote in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi in support of Barack Obama’s failed economic policies.”


Weprin has fallen behind, despite his longstanding political ties in the district. He’s a state assemblyman and the son of a former state assembly speaker.


Turner has never held elected office before, although he ran a surprisingly close race in 2010 against Weiner, who later gave up the seat in a scandal over lewd photos of himself he’d Twittered. Turner, 70, is a retired television executive whose claim to fame – or, perhaps, infamy – – is that he helped to create Jerry Springer’s bawdy television show in the 1990s.


Although Turner has opened a lead, Greenberg cautioned that the race would go down to the wire.


“While Turner leads and has momentum on his side, this is still a heavily Democratic district and in a low turnout special election, the campaigns’ get-out-the-vote operations are going to be key. There’s still a lot of campaigning yet to happen,” Greenberg said.


“Will the late infusion of national money and advertising change voters’ minds or move voters who hadn’t been planning on voting to come out and cast a ballot? These are all questions that will not be answered until Tuesday at 9 p.m..”


The Siena poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.




Analysis: Who Won the Republican Presidential Debate?

The organizers of Wednesday night’s debate did their best to turn the eight person debate into one that was really about two people: Perry and Romney.


And, in that match-up, Romney came out the winner.  He was confident and solid throughout the entirety of the debate, a benefit of being a two-time presidential candidate. He stuck to his strong points – economy and jobs – deftly sidestepped his weakness – healthcare – and took advantage of stumbles made by his main opponent Rick Perry.


Perry’s first outing on the GOP debate stage was decent, but inconsistent. He was like a boxer who comes out strong for the first two rounds, but then runs out of stamina by the later rounds.


His attacks on Romney’s record of job creation in Massachusetts during the first few minutes of the debate were sharp and crisp.


But, when it came to defending his own statements on Social Security and climate change later in the debate he floundered.


Two candidates who struggled in last month’s debate in Iowa – Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain – were more polished and poised in this one. Still, Huntsman’s message of moderation and his emphasis on electability is going to do little to improve his standing among the GOP base.


Michele Bachmann, the surprise “winner” of the first GOP debate in South Carolina earlier this year, was solid but lacked the sizzle of previous debates. Instead of attacking Perry – the guy who is the biggest threat to her candidacy – she stuck to her well-worn talking points.


This debate is the first of three over the next two weeks which means these eight candidates will have plenty of opportunities to improve – or falter.