I am going with two friends to see A White House View of 9/11, featuring Bush II administration insiders Karen Hughes, Clay Johnson, and Karl Rove. It’s being held at the LBJ Presidential Library on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
It sounds interesting, God knows, and we could all use a little more education about everything, right? So there I am in the audience, thinking back to one of the most searing, unforgettable days in our country’s history, when it seemed as if everything was falling apart, when the unimaginable happened, then happened again, when we were all shaken to the bottom of our souls.
The beautiful, cloudless day. The first hazy reports of a small private plane hitting the World Trade Center. The confusion and disbelief, then the heartstopping sight of that second plane crashing into the other building. Those two skyscrapers imploding, turning to dust and debris before our eyes.
Remember the horror, the shock, the panic? The belief everything had changed forever? The fury, the patriotism, the fierce unity? Remember, dammit?
I remember, the whole damned audience remembers, at a gut level, which is why we are here. We want to think about it a little and learn more — the inside stories we weren’t privy to on that day. And while all of us in the audience were leading our normal, everyday lives on September 11, 2001, the three people on the stage were part of history.
Karen Hughes and Clay Johnson were in D.C. that day. Karl Rove was with the president at a grade school in Sarasota, Florida. One by one, they begin to tell their stories. Some of which are colorful and interesting — the F16 escorts! The machine guns! The utter chaos! The rumors! The White House bunker! The helicopter rides!
Listening, I am trying to recall again that feeling of national — even international — unity. Like almost every other American, I wanted great leadership and I wanted George W. Bush to succeed.
Well, it seems as if I am listening to the only three people in the universe who truly believe we got great leadership and George W. Bush succeeded mightily. To them, Mission Accomplished not only isn’t a joke, it’s the perfect epitaph for their sorry administration.
Listen to them! It’s like a play-by-play of a Western, where the Good Guy (normally good-natured and slow to anger, but implacable and deadly once he gets riled) has to clean the scum and lowlifes out of the saloon so that normal people can go back to homesteadin’ and horse-ridin’ and makin’ this country a better place for non-Indians. The Good Guy, of course, should be portrayed by Gary Cooper or John Wayne, were they not, unfortunately, so dead.
However, if you listen to the frenzied and addled stories being told from the stage, we had a leader who was:
* “Cool under pressure” (Rove)
* “Full of steely determination” (Hughes)
* “The wisest person in every meeting” (Johnson)
* Someone “who always got to the heart of the matter” (Hughes)
* A guy who “immediately understood the gravity of the situation and wrapped both arms around it” (Rove)
* “always five steps ahead of everybody else” (Hughes)
I am, by this point, drained of national unity and dying to scream out, “When did you morons decide to attack Iraq?” I am also wondering why that venomous little weasel Karl Rove isn’t on Death Row or in the federal pen for outing a CIA agent and why he lives in our wonderful city when he would be so much happier in, say, Odessa (Texas or Russia — I don’t care)?
Most of all, I am still furious that they took a national trauma and tragedy and cravenly politicized it and that the “wisest person in every meeting” — who could have asked us all for some kind of meaningful sacrifice, could have inspired us to make ourselves and our country better and stronger and more fair — told us instead to go shopping.
The panel ends without any questions from the audience. We wander outside and I continue to puzzle and grind my teeth over the past two hours.
I can’t tell whether Rove, Hughes, and Johnson are so used to spinning stories that this is work as usual — or whether they really and truly believe everything they said. I’m fearful that they really and truly believe just about everything they say. To me, that kind of quasi-religious zealotry is far, far worse.
Remember when we were a unified country? No, neither do I.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
You can always read about what NOT to put in my obituary