President George W. Bush’s performance following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 has been remarkable. Unprecedented approval ratings and overwhelming public support underscore his decisive handling of the crisis.
A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted from Sept. 20-23 showed that 89 percent of Americans approve of Bush as a president—the highest approval rating the poll has ever recorded for a US president. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll placed public approval at a record-high of 90 percent. Additionally, the CBS/Times survey found that 92 percent support Bush’s plan for military action, while 83 percent think he has very strong leadership qualities.
Even liberal columnists such as McGrory and Gerald Posner are extolling the president’s triumphs. Although Posner railed against Bush’s inadequacies prior to last November’s election, he now feels, “President Bush showed all of us who doubted him, and who voted against him, that he is indeed a leader.” In a Sept. 25 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Posner stressed that Bush “has converted many of us to admirers, and he deserves our complete support. The entire administration, from Colin Powell to Donald Rumsfeld to Dick Cheney, inspires more confidence as we embark on this uncertain war than we likely would have had in any Gore administration.”
Last week, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri), ordinarily one of Bush’s main adversaries, told CNN’s John King, “I think the president, the vice president, secretary of state, are undertaking a very complicated, and, frankly, fitting type of response to this.” Ultra-liberal AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney has also voiced his support for Bush, and he openly backed any U.S. military retaliation that might take place. The magnitude and degree of positive responses from those normally critical of the administration have been unbelievable. Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh noted, “There is a tremendous, tremendous change taking place out there, one that’s founded in respect for this current president. It is just absolutely amazing.”
The heinous terrorist assaults left President Bush with a daunting task, but he has courageously risen to the challenge. Three days after the tragedy, he stood at Ground Zero, surrounded by the debris that was once the World Trade Center. While embracing New York City firefighter Bob Beckwith, Bush made an extemporaneous, off-the-cusp proclamation to the cheering rescue workers that resonated throughout our great nation: “I can hear you, the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
Such unwavering optimism has been the hallmark of Bush’s outlook on the crisis, and that is why he has been so successful at rallying public support. The American people naturally want their leaders to exhibit a spirit of hopeful resilience. This was the secret to Ronald W. Reagan’s superior oratory skills; rather than emphasizing the gravity of a problem, Reagan focused on the righteousness and certainty of the solution. At the 1992 Republican National Convention, he intimated, “...whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.” Bush has taken a similar approach by appealing to our deepest convictions.
In another Reagan-esque motion, Bush has succeeded in defining the moral imperative of our actions. In his speech before Congress on Sept. 20, he clearly identified the evilness of radical Islamic terrorism by comparing it to fascism and Nazism. Then—just as Reagan predicted the repressive, totalitarian Soviet government was destined for the “ash heap of history”—Bush vowed that murderous terror organizations would end up “in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.” He distinctly laid out the moral and practical purposes of our retaliation against these vicious factions.
President Bush’s strength and guidance this last month will certainly carve him a place in our nation’s history. His inspiring presidential leadership reminds us that nothing can ever destroy the promise of America.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” George W. Bush’s chance has come, and he has displayed character, steadfast integrity, and an unbreakable will. In these tumultuous times, we should all be proud to have him as our Commander-in-Chief.
Duncan M. Currie ’04 is a history concentrator in Leverett House.