The State of the Union address referred to safety, freedom and terrorism repeatedly. So much so, that I printed out the speech and highlighted every word related to one of these ideas. If someone from another planet were to read this speech, he or she would believe that the United States has been subject to numerous terrorist attacks over the last five years and, perhaps, that it is currently living under tyrannical rule. Through the first four pages of the speech, before speaking about domestic issues, Bush notes ‘freedom' (or related) about fifteen times, and ‘terror' (and others related to hatred and violence) about thirty-five times.
I think that the reason we cannot get past September 11th is because the Bush administration will not let us get past it. President Bush has ridden, and continues to ride, the political benefits of September 11th to its fullest extent. The attack that day in September 2001 left Americans feeling afraid and vulnerable. It also inspired hatred and patriotism. In many ways, for the Bush administration, it was the best thing that could have happened.
Fearful people often make emotional and irrational decisions. Bush used fear related to the terrorist attack to gain support for a war in Iraq, predominately by inaccurately propagandizing a relationship between the terrorists that attacked America on September 11th and Iraq. The war cast Bush as defender of American freedom, liberty and values. While I think just everyone supported the war against the terrorist state that existed in Afghanistan, the Bush administration used this moment to confuse the public, ignore international advice and invade Iraq. War with Iraq during the Bush administration was probably inevitable, for a variety of reasons, but September 11th opened the door. Following which, his approval ratings soared, as those that opposed the war were portrayed as unpatriotic. Bush used fear to misdirect the public into believing that Iraq both had weapons of mass destruction and that these weapons threatened American freedom. Those that supported Bush and the war often defended him and the conflict, even as the disingenuous information surfaced. In the State of the Union, Bush maintained that we are fighting to preserve our freedoms, though Iraq has never actually threatened them
Then the Bush administration used fear to pass the Patriot Act as a measure to protect the American public from future terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act was largely unread by Congress and has unconstitutionally acted upon the civil liberties of American citizens. In addition, the President has used the war on terror to illegally spy on American citizens and torture prisoners in conflict with the Geneva Convention. He created himself as "Commander in Chief" and now feels as though he can do whatever he wants as a "wartime" president.
After the initial plummeting of stocks on Wall Street, the Bush administration benefited from September 11th in that national interests were focused on safety, not the stumbling economy. Except for safety, nothing scares people like the thought of losing their money. But the economy was no longer his fault; it was September 11th that caused the stock market "blip." The acts of war and subsequent patriotism acted to deflect the economic conditions, which only reared its ugly head during the reelection campaign. If the American public would have had nothing else to think about but the economy and high unemployment rates for Bush's entire first term, it would have been much more of a political issue than it was. The increasing deficit, projected at 423 billion for 2006, is troubling for most, but is also reflected as a cost of fighting the war on terror. Meanwhile, American companies tied to the administration, such as Halliburton, received major foreign contracts and, now, oil companies, such as Exxon are recording record profits.
Although the conservative push was well on its way, the Bush administration used September 11th as an attack on American values. Since Muslim extremists committed the terrorist attack, Bush used the connection to insinuate an attack on Christianity and American freedoms. He at one point even called the retaliation a "crusade." In the State of the Union, he labels radical Islam as the ideology of "terror and death."
Thus, September 11th instilled fear into the American public, which in turn led to war, the slashing of civil liberties, deflected economic concerns, and a stirring of patriotic and conservative ideology. If that was not enough, the President's reelection campaign then used safety as, perhaps, the deciding issue in his reelection bid in 2004. The Bush campaign enjoyed only a few ideological advantages over John Kerry, the largest being the idea that Kerry, as a liberal would not, theoretically at least, protect America as well as the President.
If you think the president has not used the terrorist attack to his full advantage, consider if things would have happened differently. Imagine if there had not been a September 11th and instead if the events of Hurricane Katrina had occurred in Bush's first term. Imagine if Bush had to seek reelection portrayed as an unprepared, inept leader that could not relate to the economic and social concerns that plagued the majority of Americans- the middle class and poor.
We have all probably at one time or another "milked" a bad situation for all its worth. President Bush, over the last five years, however, may have redefined the term. Not only did he use the tragic events of September 11th to win reelection, he has used it to trample civil liberties, create large governmental deficits and take us into a war that has led to over 2,000 American casualties and between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqi civilian casualties- all as a result of a frightened American public.
Not so coincidentally, the President just asked Congress to cut more social programs and make available more money for war, safety and the military.
Terror alert: Orange.