Taking advantage of those who died on 9/11

Published September 3, 2004 3:48PM (EDT)

Boy, Gov. George Pataki and President Bush sure talked a lot about 9/11 Thursday night. I mean, a lot. A disturbing lot. At some point, for me -- and I think it was when Pataki was still talking -- the whole parading of the Twin Towers attack stopped being about "Look how America rose to the occasion" and started being a kind of porn.

I'm as much of a sucker for wallowing in 9/11 as most Americans are. All someone has to do is repeat that famous phrase "They ran into the buildings," as Pataki did, and I start to well up. Tell a story about Americans acting selflessly to help others in the wake of the tragedy -- for example, those Pennsylvania boys Pataki mentioned who took money they'd saved to go to Disney World and gave it to the firefighters -- and all of a sudden there's something in my eye.

The searing pain of that day and the days that followed has faded enough that it almost feels good to go back and revisit it, to poke at the scab a little. I'm not alone here. Those teary-eyed delegates the cameras caught Thursday were having the time of their lives.

But at some point, so much harping on 9/11 becomes nothing more than cashing in on the deaths of thousands. It's cashing in politically, not monetarily, but I'm not sure one's any better than the other. I'm not even sure they're different.

The single greatest American security and defense failure of the past 60 years happened on the Bush administration's watch, and not without some warning. Yet it's a testament to the administration's political skill that it can turn such a negative into a positive. Hats off to Bush and Co. for that.

And very little of what was said about the events surrounding 9/11 Thursday night was disputable. Americans really did rise to the occasion in magnificent ways. And even those of us who think little of Bush had to admit that he had his moments in those days.

When he was speaking from that pile of rubble where the towers once stood and someone said, "We can't hear you" and he ad-libbed, "I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon," my goodness, that was a home run.

But enough is enough. At some point, a point I think was reached before Bush even hit the stage, rolling around in 9/11 becomes ghoulish.

These are the folks who won't let the press take pictures of soldiers' coffins. They sure seem to have a fondness for parading the American dead around when it suits their needs.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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