Joe Conason's Journal

Ladies and gentleman, that laugh riot, Gov. Jeb Bush! Plus: When desperate for a fresh message, co-opt Lincoln.

By Salon Staff

Published September 11, 2002 3:55PM (EDT)

Jeb cracks wise
"What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting -- I don't know," quipped a jocular Jeb Bush, when he heard about the ongoing screw-ups in the Florida election system. To make wisecracks about this latest parody of democratic processes, despite his own administration's appalling misconduct, is to mock the oath he took and the people who elected him. Let's hope that the Democrats can avoid lawsuits over the primary, and that the voters see fit to retire this glib incompetent in November.

Profaning the sacred
Tonight on a "60 Minutes 2" special, George W. Bush discusses hitting the "trifecta" and other topics germane to his presidency. Actually, he probably won't use the betting term, but he will reportedly defend the assaults on civil liberties by his Justice Department. In what is no doubt meant to be a reassuring statement, he says that "the American people got to understand that the Constitution is sacred as far as I am concerned." Sure, and he's probably lining the White House birdcage with pages from the Bible, too. A relevant editorial in the Los Angeles Times assumes that further abuses are certain to be perpetrated by this administration, and calls upon Congress to do something about it, aside from writing unanswered letters to John Ashcroft.
[3:09 p.m. PDT, Sept. 11, 2002]

Those ordinary heroes
On this morning of remembrance, we in New York are listening to the bagpipes and thinking about those who gave "the last full measure of devotion" as the twin towers fell. We mourn all the victims of Sept. 11 -- but what seems particularly important is to recall that our heroes were working people, proud of their uniforms and their unions, who did their jobs, loved their families, raised their children, and defended our city. The colleagues left behind by the lost cops, firefighters and emergency service medics are extraordinary people, too. Their grace, and that of the volunteers who joined them, finds expression in a moving column by Terry Golway, my editor at the New York Observer.

Son of a New York firefighting clan who married into another family of firefighters, Terry has written a wonderful new history of the Fire Department, "So Others Might Live: A History of New York's Bravest -- The FDNY from 1700 to the Present." He would never dishonor his friends and relatives by writing a false encomium; what he tells is the gripping story of a human institution both great and flawed. And in doing so he instructs us that the sacrifice we witnessed a year ago was a legacy of more than a century of daily devotion by great Americans whose names have mostly been forgotten. Today, hundreds of those names will be read aloud, at ground zero and in firehouses all over the city.

Silence and noise
Columbia historian Simon Schama places today's observances in perspective with a bracing essay in the Guardian: "Never have the ordinary people of America, the decent, working stiffs whose bodies lay in the hecatomb of Ground Zero, needed and deserved a great tribune more urgently. The greatest honour we could do them is to take back the voice of democracy from the plutocrats. So it is altogether too bad that this Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki, both liberal Republicans, both decent enough men, shrinking from the challenge to articulate such a debate, have decided instead to read from the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech. Those words -- often sublime -- derived their power from the urgency of the moment. To reiterate them merely to produce a moment of dependable veneration, is to short-change both history and the present ... Starting in New York, starting now, we need to do what the people of this astoundingly irrepressible city do best: stand up and make a hell of a noise."

The other bin Laden escape
Hundreds of Arabs and Muslims have endured lengthy detention while American authorities investigate their suspected ties to terrorism -- but the relatives of Osama bin Laden who were here a year ago encountered no such inconveniences on their way home. Their swift exit via chartered jet was delayed just long enough for perfunctory airport interviews by the FBI, according to Byron York. York strongly suggests that the White House helped arrange the bin Ladens' smooth departure, but leaves out the long-standing business connections between their family and Bush, Inc.

[10:30 a.m. PDT, Sept. 11, 2002]

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