Closed Eyes, Empty Heads, Can’t Lose

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


19 comments… add one
  • Donna Link

    Outstanding, Ruth. I love your wordsmithing any day, but this is superb. My favorite line: “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)?”

  • Linda Unger Link

    Dallas got W and that joke lie-bury. Let’s trade.

  • Well done, Ruth. And too true.

  • Marsha Canright Link

    This hoo-rahing seems so disrespectful to the real heroes of 9-11. I believe that these individuals BELIEVE what they are saying and that is truly terrifying. They must not ever talk to anyone except each other. I think Karl Rove is the best argument ever for believing a human can be inhabited by devils. In my opinion he has done more harm to this country and its liberties than Al Qaeda.

  • I don’t think I could have sat through that. Thanks for going and listening and feeling the tough things.

  • I do think politicians of all ilk get so used to spinning their own stories, they forget what exactly happened on any given day. Especially *that day.

  • Don’t know how you managed to sit through it without screaming or vomiting. Ugh.

  • Patricia Link

    How can anyone anywhere accept what those three said as even close to the truth? W was absolutely the worst President ever.

  • I loved your comments, but I couldn’t help wondering why you (and hopefully other people) didn’t take advantage of the Q&A time to challenge these people. I think of times past when persistent reporters and outraged citizens had the guts to ask hard questions. Why not make the speakers squirm?

  • So very well said. Now I need to go take a walk and blow off some steam…

  • so many of my freinds are musicians who were on the road at 9/11.
    can’t help but think that an evening of their stories could be more enlightening.

  • Deborah Lee Link

    You are a saint to have sat through this. I certainly couldn’t have.

  • Sue Williams Link

    I would laugh if I weren’t so busy crying. I am not sure how you kept from throwing up.

  • Nancy Scanlan Link

    You put it so precisely – precisely why I didn’t go that evening … couldn’t bear to hear that trio do exactly what I suspected they would do … pump up their idiot little puppet who really got us that paved the way for the mess we’re now facing in Syria … at least this time with a thoughtful, educated president who is doing the best he can with a dreadful situation …

  • Cindy Link

    Very brave of you to sit through that! Glad you didn’t have a stroke or heart attack or indigestion!

  • bonehead Link

    Nailed it Ruth, great work.

  • I still can’t believe you did sit through that and only gritted your teeth. Such a horrible day in our history, but sadly, the theme these days is to politicize everything.

  • I’m reading this on the actual date of 9/11 and everything is coming back so clearly. Surely sitting through that movie had to be (almost) as upsetting.

  • Pat Atkinson Link

    I don’t agree with you at all – but that is precisely why I love this country so much. People can disagree with others without name-calling….well obviously with some name calling 😉

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