Oh, Right, That Attack Under Bush

Source: The New York Times
By Clyde Haberman
Published: January 11, 2010
Url: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/nyregion/12nyc.html

Rudolph W. Giuliani has taken a lot of heat since Friday, and it isn’t fair. Of course he knows that George W. Bush was president when the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The former mayor suffered a bout of foot-in-mouth disease when he said during a television interview that “we had no domestic attacks under Bush.” Could it be that Mr. 9/11 forgot about 9/11? Not a chance. In short order, Mr. Giuliani apologized for his lapse. He said that he usually adds the words “since Sept. 11” when describing America as having been attack-free on President Bush’s watch.

Actually, even that statement is of dubious accuracy — unless one discounts post-9/11, Bush-in-the-White-House moments like the anthrax attacks, the airplane shoe bomber, the lethal assault on an El Al ticket counter in Los Angeles and, for that matter, the D.C. sniper shootings that killed 10 people and terrorized Washington and its environs.

But why quibble? The issue of the moment is whether Mr. Giuliani knew that Mr. Bush was president back in 2001. And he surely did. How can we be so certain? Because Mr. Giuliani himself said so.

Remember his speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York? He recalled that awful day in 2001 and how stunned he was as he watched someone jump from the burning north tower. Spontaneously, he said, he grabbed the arm of a man standing beside him and said, “Bernie, thank God George Bush is our president.”

“Bernie” was Bernard B. Kerik, then the police commissioner, later Mr. Giuliani’s ideal to run the Department of Homeland Security, now a convicted felon. So much for Bernie.

To some people, it strained credulity that a person’s first thoughts on watching such unrelieved horror would be to think of the president — any president — and to thank the Lord for his existence. Be that as it may, Mr. Giuliani was on the record acknowledging a domestic attack under Mr. Bush.

After his ill-fated Friday interview, the former mayor shrugged off the subsequent kerfuffle as “so silly.” But his lapse did not come in isolation. It fit a recent Republican pattern.

In late November, Dana Perino, a former Bush press secretary, said, “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.” In late December, Mary Matalin, a former senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, said, “We inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation’s history.” She clearly meant Sept. 11, not the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people and until 2001 was the worst terrorist act in this country.

“Republicans tend not to count 9/11 against Bush,” Margaret Carlson, a columnist for Bloomberg News, said Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “That’s, like, not on his watch because ‘Oh, we didn’t know about that before.’ ”

Wittingly or not, Mr. Giuliani on Friday put himself in sync with that line of thinking.

SINCE leaving City Hall, he has generally turned rightward and embraced national Republican views that he once shunned. Perhaps a reason that he chose not to run for governor or senator was a realization that he could have a tough time squaring his present politics with prevailing sentiments in much of New York State.

In his dismal presidential race, he endorsed the sorts of crackdowns on illegal immigrants that he had prohibited as mayor. He flipped or flopped or both on federal gun control laws, abortion rights and national tax policies. Lately, he has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage more emphatically than he once did. Where he once celebrated holding criminal trials in civilian courts for terror suspects as “a symbol of American justice,” he now calls that a terrible idea.

Before Mr. Giuliani announced that he would forgo a statewide race, polls suggested that he could easily beat either Gov. David A. Paterson or Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand. Similarly, early polls showed him way ahead of other Republicans seeking the party’s presidential nomination in 2008. His lead was largely a function of name recognition. Once voters actually saw him, they were not so enchanted.

Mr. Giuliani may have worried about the same dynamic developing in a statewide election. We’ll probably never know.

There is one thing we can be sure of, though: George W. Bush was president when those planes struck the twin towers.