Politicians use 9/11 as a tool to win elections
Post-9/11 politicians used the terror attacks to transform themselves into a new version of the American Superman — one that relied on clichéd election phrases, vague promises and patriot-infused speeches.
Former President George W. Bush relied on 9/11 as a rallying tactic for several years after the event. Politicians like Bush received immense support from civilians after the attack. The reason was simple: fear.
Ithaca College politics professor Juan Arroyo discussed the repercussion of 9/11 in U.S. politics courses, and most recently in a public lecture titled “Sept. 11, 2001: Looking Back,” held at Ithaca College on Sept. 14.
“There was a collective sense of fear and insecurity, and [politicians] offered protection and consolation,” Arroyo said. “They concentrated on fear and minimized many other domestic and economic problems that had to be addressed.”
The attacks generated a fear that reached deep into the American psyche, invading our everyday lives and living room TV sets. This newfound insecurity from the attack was overwhelmed by the rallying power of Bush’s remarks — his approval rating skyrocketed.
On Sept. 10, 2001, Bush’s approval rating was 51 percent, according to Gallup. Three days after the attack, the rating had reached 86 percent, and by Sept. 21, 2001, it peaked at 90 percent.
Bush’s “Address to the Nation” on Oct. 7, 2001, marked a beginning to the war on terror. He announced planned strikes against Taliban military installations and al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. But, in light of war, Bush assured America of success.
“We will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail,” he said.
Even though thousands of young American soldiers were deployed to fight, Bush was still seen as a hero during the 2004 election year as his approval rating remained near 50 percent.
In the final weeks before the 2004 election, the Bush camp circulated a $14.2 million television ad. This ad, called “Ashley’s story,” was centered on a little girl whose mother was killed during the World Trade Center attacks. In the ad, Ashley said, “He’s the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I’m safe — that I’m OK.”
This commercial was credited for swaying some of the swing states, which won Bush the re-election.
In his 2004 acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention on Sept. 2, 2004, Bush reminded the audience of 9/11, yet again.
“We know that September the 11th requires our country to think differently.” Bush said. “We must, and we will, confront threats to America before it is too late.”
In this speech alone there were five separate mentions of the 9/11 attack.
Bush wasn’t the only politicians using the 9/11 scare tactic and reveling in the subsequent hero status.
In New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani was praised as a hero, even though thousands of first responders poured into the flaming towers and volunteers spent the days after 9/11 digging through the rubble.
Giuliani graced the cover of Time’s Dec. 31, 2001 issue as “Person of the Year.” The accompanying headline, “Mayor of the World,” cast Giuliani as the great protector. The cover read “Rudy Giuliani: Tower of Strength.”
Today, though acts of terrorism still continue to impact national politics, the scene is very different on the local level.
Sept. 11 and subsequent terroristic events are not primary concerns for the constituents of Chris Lauzen, Republican State Senator from Illinois.
“They are worried about losing their jobs, having their homes foreclosed on, having something bad happen to one of their children,” he said.
On a local level, 9/11 intimidation isn’t necessary; it’s already been accomplished on a national level. Local politics are much more centered on daily life issues like the recent economic crisis. This crisis has gained national attention and is now also being used as a political tool.
Unless there is another attack, politics professor Juan Arroyo suspects 9/11 will not be heavily addressed in upcoming campaigns. But Republican State Senator from New York, Thomas O’Mara believes otherwise.
“The events of 9/11 inevitably stand to remind us of the overriding importance of homeland security,” O’Mara said. “Its relevance to today’s political discussions is that we can never again take for granted the security of our homeland.”
Ten years later, the U.S. is left with a false sense of security, two wars in the Middle East and over a trillion dollars of national debt. Yet, regardless of our increasing removal from the attacks, the fear of terrorism that was established will always play a role in American politics.
Jessica Corbett is freshman journalism major who is still waiting on her superman. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.