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Politicizing 9/11

Christie Pesavento | Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In December of 2001, with the nation still reeling from the most horrific attack on American soil, President George W. Bush approved Public Law 107-89 to officially declare September 11th “Patriot Day.”

Eight years later, in April of 2009, President Barack Obama decided to put his own mark on the memory of 9/11 by signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. Section 1802 of the law declares September 11th a “National Day of Service and Remembrance” in order to encourage Americans to engage in full- or part-time service activities.

In a letter commemorating the eighth anniversary of the attacks, Obama writes,

“We are building a new foundation for growth and prosperity, but we cannot succeed without your help. We can rebuild our schools, but we need mentors and tutors to guide our students. We can modernize our health system, but we need volunteers to care for the sick and assist others in leading healthier lives. We can invest in clean energy, but we need people to maintain energy efficiency in their homes and help create a green economy.”

Now, I’m all in favor of volunteering and charity. Private individuals taking it upon themselves to help their neighbors a tradition firmly rooted in the American psyche and should be continued.

But Obama’s attempt to transform the memory of 9/11 into a politically-correct, feel-good call for service robs the anniversary of its solemnity and diverts the focus from the real reason why we cannot forget what happened that day: to make sure it never happens again. Improving education, modernizing healthcare, and investing in clean energy are all noble policy goals to be sure. Call me cynical, but I have trouble envisioning a group of terrorists, bent on slaughtering thousands of innocent Americans, saying to one another, “You know, they did manage to create a ‘green economy.’ Maybe those Americans aren’t so bad after all.”

If the Left thought Bush was politicizing a tragedy, Democrats have clearly beaten him at his own game. Regardless of how one views the War on Terror, no reasonable person can deny that Bush believed his national security agenda was designed at least in part to prevent another 9/11. Twisting what should be a day of remembrance and reflection into one that furthers Obama’s domestic agenda, which bears no relation to national security, is a patently political act.

An anonymous source cited by Matthew Vadum of The American Spectator insists a more sinister motive is at play. Recalling a teleconference sponsored by the White House to lay out the plans for the first Day of Service, the source claims, “[The administration] think[s] it needs to be taken back from the right. They’re taking that day and they’re breaking it because it gives Republicans an advantage.”

Adding to this concern is the fact that a broad coalition of far-left organizations participated in the president’s call. Vadum counts over 60 of these radical groups, including AFL-CIO, Friends of the Earth, Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition and ACORN.

Whatever the underlying reason, attempting to dilute the memory of 9/11 for political purposes by emphasizing service over remembrance is unconscionable. Just ask those who lost a loved one that day.

Deborah Burlingame, whose brother piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, remarks, “When I first heard about it, I was concerned. I fear, I greatly fear, at some point we’ll transition to turning it into Earth Day where we go and plant trees and the remembrance part will become smaller and smaller and smaller.”

She adds, “There is nothing wrong in doing good deeds in honor of those who died doing good service on September 11th. It’s good to teach future generations about how we responded to the worst attack on the American homeland in the history of this country. However, it disturbs me that the word ‘remembrance’ is getting lopped off in many of these news stories.”

Gordon Haberman, who lost his daughter at the World Trade Center on September 11th, had a similar reaction. “9/11 will always be a day of remembrance for me but 20 to 30 years from now that won’t be the case for the American public.”

David Paine is a cofounder of the Web site MyGoodDeed.org, which balances the memory of those who were lost with that of those who courageously served our nation that day and in the aftermath of the attacks. “We don’t want to transform 9/11 from a day of remembrance to a day of service,” he states. “It has to be forever linked and reflected on what happened on that day. The consensus within the 9/11 community is that we wanted it to be non-profit, voluntary, privately funded, not government organized, and have Americans do simple good deeds in addition to the memorial service.”

To participate in the first Day of Service, the president and the First Lady joined Habitat for Humanity in adding a fresh coat of white paint to a new living room in a home in Northeast DC – a fitting metaphor for the administration’s attempts to whitewash a national tragedy.

Christie Pesavento is a senior who is majoring in political science and sociology. She can be reached at cpesaven@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.