Karl Rove has come under justified fire for once again trying to exploit 9/11 politically. At a speech on Wednesday night, Rove–who is now the White House deputy chief of staff (rather than a mere evil-genius political strategist)–claimed that after the horrific attacks of September 11 conservatives were revved up to defend the United States and strike back while wimpy liberals wanted to “offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.” Those are not the words one might expect from a fellow who serves a president who vowed to be a uniter-not-a-divider. Yet the Bush White House accepted–and applauded–this divisive rhetoric. Asked about Rove’s comments, chief of staff Andrew Card said, “All America came together to recognize how horrible that attack was on this country and that the war on terror is real….I don’t think there’s any doubt that Americans are united in making sure that what happened on September 11th doesn’t happen again.” Hold on there, chief. Black isn’t white. Rove was saying that after 9/11 America was divided and that liberals were not committed to defending the nation against the terrorists. Card then remarked, “Karl Rove’s speech was a speech that I think reflected some of the rhetoric that a lot of people feel.” In other words, Attaboy! Dan Bartlett, White House communications director, called Rove’s rhetoric “very accurate.” (Fast, Dan, cite one “offer” of therapy.)
Exploiting 9/11–as the poll numbers for the war in Iraq, George W. Bush, and the congressional Republicans sink–seems to be the GOP play of the week. After all, Rove is not the only Republican to resort to such ugliness. During the House debate this week over a constitutional amendment to ban the desecration of the American flag, Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a California Republican and the lead sponsor of this measure, repeatedly referred to 9/11. He declared that permitting flag burning “is an insult to all those who perished in the attacks of September 11, 2001.” He also said. “Ask the men and women who stood on top of the [World] Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: Pass this amendment.”
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We, of course, cannot ask those men and women what they think of Cunningham’s constitutional amendment. But we can ask others who were profoundly affected by that day. I called Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ron, was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and asked what she thought of Cunningham’s argument. Breitweiser, one of the leading advocates of the 9/11 families, was busy responding to media queries about Rove’s remarks. (See her posting on Rove at www.HuffingtonPost.com.) But she took a few moments away from that endeavor to consider Cunningham’s comments. Then she said,
I don’t see why 9/11 would be invoked in this debate. This has nothing to do with my husband having been killed on 9/11. I personally would never burn a flag. But people are entitled to freedom of expression. Isn’t that what we’re fighting for in Iraq? And with all the issues we have to deal with these days, flag-burning is the least of our problems. We have people dying in Iraq. We have to figure out our foreign policy and we have to protect the homeland. I don’t know what this amendment has to do with 9/11.
Perhaps Cunningham knows better than this 9/11 widow what the fallen of September 11 would desire when it comes to flag desecration. He sure was not shy about wrapping his flag amendment in the bloody banner of September 11. But Cunningham has good reason to show off his diehard patriotism these days. He is in the middle of an ethics scandal. On June 12, the San Diego Union-Tribune revealed that the founder of a defense firm that reportedly has won government contracts with Cunningham’s assistance had bought Cunningham’s house at what appears to have been an inflated price of $1,675,000 in November 2003. When this defense exec, Mitchell Wade, sold the house soon afterward he took a $700,000 loss. (After buying Cunningham’s home, Wade allowed the congressman to live on a yacht he keeps in Washington.) The purchase looks fishy–as if Wade was seeking a way to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into Cunningham’s personal bank account. Cunningham has claimed that nothing untoward transpired. But this is a deal that deserves scrutiny from the House ethics committee–if the committee ever starts to do its job. This past Wednesday, Copley News Service reported that Wade had pressured employees to donate to a political action fund that made contributions to Cunningham.
Later that day, the House passed the constitutional amendment to ban flag burning by a 286 to 130 vote. The House had previously approved such an amendment several times, but the amendment subsequently failed to garner the two-thirds vote required in the Senate. And the same is likely to happen again. According to the Associated Press, 35 senators currently oppose the amendment–one more than the number needed to block it. Still, Cunningham had something other than his personal housing scandal to talk about this week.
Given his ethics troubles, Cunningham has provided more material to support the truest of cliches about patriotism and scoundrels. The flag-burning amendment is the latest resort of this scandalized patriot. And Cunningham’s exploitation of 9/11 only strengthens his standing as a scoundrel. But he is in good company, for he is in complete sync with a White House eager to use 9/11 as another prop for its divide-and-conquer politics.
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