9-11: Please Remember Dallas

This is the latest issue of Bill Kristol's magazine. It arrived through the mail Tuesday just in time to coincide with the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The cover features in bold print the headline,"Farewell to American Greatness." Though unintentional, it is music to the ears of terrorists.

Bill Kristol is the victim of what must be the most unfortunate case of timing in magazine publishing history. But it is not the cover that is wrong with this edition of the magazine. At any other time the cover would have attracted little negative notice. What is deeply disturbing is what's printed inside on page 6.

In an editorial designed to take President Bush to task for staging a late-night fireworks display in honor of the visit of Mexican President Fox -- the artificial bombs bursting in the air are said to have kept nearby residents up past 11pm -- the writer (anonymous) takes a swipe at Bill Clinton. He is accused of having deliberately made himself remote as president by banning"non-government vehicles from Pennsylvania Avenue." Leave aside the absurd implication of the editorial that Mr. Clinton -- the Gladhander President in Chief -- was ever guilty of remoteness. The charge leveled against him here is enough to make the blood boil -- and would have been even in the absence of the recent attacks. Must everything be politicized? Who walking up to the White House has not thought how easy it would be to ram a truck through the gates even with the barricades?

Mr. Bush, the editorial writer reminds the reader, promised in the campaign to remove the barricades. Mr. Bush never should have made such a silly promise. But he was a candidate at the time and candidates say lots of silly things. But for the Weekly to take seriously the complaint that Mr. Clinton walled off Pennsylvania Avenue in the name of supposedly bogus"security concerns" is outrageous.

In the wake of the bombing attacks this is the last, we suppose, that we will hear about plans to remove the barricades from Pennsylvania Avenue. This is one promise Mr. Bush can break and no one will gainsay him.

Presidents need to be mindful of security issues. The last thing we need is to have a president get killed out of a misguided attempt to be close to the people. John Kennedy insisted, baby boomers will recall, that he travel through Dallas without benefit of his car's protective bubbletop. The consequences of this single decision remain with us to this day. (Had it rained, the bubbletop would have been used. Jackie hoped it would be. She did not want her hairdo ruined by a 45 minute ride in an open car.)

Why bring this up now? History should teach us something. Dallas 1963 taught us that presidents need to be careful about their security arrangements. Mr. Bush should be allowed to be careful about his in the present circumstances. He should not be chided for having stayed away from the capital on Tuesday even if pundits like William Safire (NYT, 9-12-01) think that the president “should have insisted on coming right back to the Washington area” regardless of the advice of the Secret Service.

Mr. Bush’s sensible desire to remain alive is to be accommodated not for his sake only but for ours. Security for a president is vital to the country. If Mr. Bush was advised by security to keep away from Washington for a few hours until it became clear exactly what was going on, so be it. We can all live with that.

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J. Madison Davis - 9/14/2001

Jay Leno once remarked that you can't make a disparaging joke about a politician that people don't already believe. You can, for example, say that Bob Dole is old and it's funny because people already believe it, even though they're too embarassed to say it. Make a joke about his being gay and you'll get a bizarre stare. Absolutely, Dubya should have done what the Secret Service told him. No question. It comes off, however, as Baby George running for cover. In the Renaissance they talked about leaders having gravitas, but George looks like he's still wondering what the vote was in Florida. Colin Powell doing the same thing wouldn't have drawn this kind of criticism, nor Eisenhower, nor Johnson, nor Nixon, nor Daddy George. Carter and Clinton, oh yes. The more Dubya tries to look strong, the more silly he seems--Dukakis in a tank. Now this isn't saying he's not worthy to be president, history will decide that. Unfortunately with him, when his spokesman says he was a target, it comes across as an attempt to make him important. Perception matters. Can you picture that deer in the headlights look on a dollar bill? Neither can I. And you've got to admit, Rudy really looked like Mr. Mayor down there, while Dubya looked like some guy guarding Alabama from the Viet Cong. If he was half as articulate as Tony Blair. . .

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