During the long months of post-September 11 presidential invincibility, no member of Congress climbed further out on the what-did-Bush-know-when limb than Representative Cynthia McKinney. “We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11,” the Georgia Democrat said in March. “What did this Administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?”
The disclosure that President Bush was warned in August that Al Qaeda was seeking to hijack domestic aircraft did not confirm all McKinney’s intimations–which extended to talk about how the Bush family might have profited from the attacks. Yet she was freed to stake a claim of vindication. “It now becomes clear why the Bush Administration has been vigorously opposing Congressional hearings. The Bush Administration has been engaged in a conspiracy of silence. If committed and patriotic people had not been pushing for disclosure, today’s revelations would have been hidden by the White House.”
McKinney’s initial calls for an investigation of what Bush knew prompted a storm of criticism. “McKinney has made herself too easy a target for mockery,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker announced in April. “She no longer deserves serious analysis.” After Bush aides condemned McKinney’s “ludicrous, baseless views,” National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg diagnosed her as suffering from “paranoid, America-hating, crypto-Marxist conspiratorial delusions.” Barely a month after the McKinney-bashing peaked, however, the Journal-Constitution headline read: “Bush warned by US intelligence before 9/11 of possible bin Laden plot to hijack planes,” while Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said, “I believe, and others believe, if [information on threats] had been acted on properly, we may have had a different situation on September 11.”
There were no apologies to McKinney. Brushing aside complaints from Atlanta civil rights activists, Georgia Senator Zell Miller continued to characterize his fellow Democrat as “loony.” McKinney’s critics kept exploiting the opening she gave them with her unfounded rumination on the prospect that something other than ineptness might explain the Administration’s failure to warn Americans about terrorist threats. But her willingness to go after the Administration when few Democrats dared earned her folk-hero status among dissenters from the Bush-can-do-no-wrong mantra: The popular democrats.com website now greets visitors with a We Believe Cynthia icon.
In Georgia, where McKinney faces a July primary challenge from a former judge who labels her “off-the-wall and unproductive,” a recent Journal-Constitution headline read, “Revelations Give Boost to McKinney.” Letters to the editor, even from former critics, hail her prescience. And Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis, who once steered clear of McKinney’s call for an investigation, says, “I hate to put it in this vein, but she may have the last laugh.”