President Bush’s Speech on September 11: A Model of Presidential Leadership
The 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks has passed. I suspect that many Americans join me in finding that the events and comments associated with this grim observance have been different from what we expected and in some way emotionally and spiritually unsatisfying.
All Americans above a certain age can vividly remember where they were and exactly what they were doing when these heinous and evil assaults on our nation took place. I had spent the previous Thursday and Friday attending a UN event in New York City, and returned to Nashville on Friday night, passing right by the Twin Towers in all their illuminated majesty. (As a baby boomer who grew up in the booming city of Houston, I feel the same for skyscrapers as some people do for mountain peaks.)
One speech, however, caught my attention, lifted my spirits and gave me a much needed perspective on this horrific day and our current national identity crisis.
Former President George W. Bush’s speech was delivered in Shanksville, Pa. At the Flight 93 Memorial, the site where a heroic group of extraordinary Americans shot down a hijacked airliner before it could attack. the White House or Congress, killing many more Americans. .
Watching the speech on television, I remembered what presidential leadership is and its unique importance to our country. Presidential leadership may be difficult to define precisely, but to paraphrase Judge Potter Stewart’s famous observation regarding pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), “I Know It When I See It,” and our 43rd President provided us with a vivid example of such presidential leadership on September 11.
President Bush reminded us of how shocked the entire nation was at the unprecedented attacks of September 11. “There was horror on the scale of destruction, and awe of the bravery and kindness that rose to face it … in the sacrifice of first responders, in helping strangers, in solidarity of sorrow and grace, enemy actions revealed the spirit of a people.
President Bush, addressing his compatriots as a proud American, said that “we have learned that bravery is more common than we imagined, emerging with sudden splendor in the face of death.”
Turning specifically to the extraordinary heroism of the passengers on Flight 93, the President said that “the terrorists quickly discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. Faced with an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by telephone, prepared for action and conquered the designs of evil.
Reminding his compatriots who they are and have been, the President concluded: “These Americans were brave, strong and united in a way that shocked terrorists, but should not surprise any of us. This is the nation we know. And whenever we need hope and inspiration, we can look up to the sky and remember. “
Listening to the speech, I thought, “This is Lincolnesque” – and I don’t use that word lightly. As I listened, I thought of President Lincoln’s first inaugural address when he called, albeit in vain, for a nation on the brink of Civil War to listen to “the best angels of our nature.”
It was the recurring theme of the president’s speech. Deeply concerned about “a malevolent force … at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures,” President Bush has attempted to remind us of who we are and what we have and do. , defend as a nation.
Essentially, he reminded us that our heritage and our history tell us that we are better than we behaved.
President Bush is rightly proud of our country. America is not a perfect nation, but there is a reason people all over the world, of all ethnicities, risk their lives and their bodies to come here. We are a unique country, and the American ideal has improved the human condition for over 200 years and will continue to do so.
In recounting the events of September 11, 2001 and the months that followed, President Bush reminded us, “This is the nation I know. “
When I was little, almost every time I left home, my mother would tell me, “Richard, remember who you are! She told me to behave like I had been brought up and not to bring my family into disrepute. In fact, President Bush reminds us to remember who we are and who we can still be as a people.
The media reaction to President Bush’s speech illustrates that his concern about our civil speech, or should we say uncivil, is justified. It is as if President Bush’s speech functioned as some sort of national Rorschach test or ‘inkblot’, with each party seeing what they wanted to see, thus illustrating how irrational our national discourse has become and dysfunctional.
Liberal media praised former President Bush for condemning the extremism that produced the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, blind to the president acting as an equal opportunity violator, criticizing right-wing extremes and the left-wing extremes that have produced Black Lives Matter, Antifa and Widespread Violence and Riots over the past 18 months. You remember the demonstrators marching through American cities chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon”, encouraging violence against perhaps the most visible symbol of law and order, the police ? Remember when they tried to demolish the statues of Lincoln, Grant and Washington and suggested that the capital be renamed?
On the right, the conservative media has also too often assumed that former President Bush was only critical of the extremes on the right, not the left. I know the man and am sure he condemned extremism in all of its various manifestations and called on Americans to stop thinking about each other’s worst and find common ground in our priceless heritage as ‘Americans.
President Bush’s speech on September 11 is what true presidential leadership looks like and is indeed reminiscent of the “Great Emancipator,” and no praise can be given to anyone who has had the privilege of occupying the Oval Office.
Such inspiring rhetoric from our 43rd President should come as no surprise to those who really listened to him during his tenure. In his much underrated inaugural speech, the President said:
America has never been united by blood, birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that push us beyond our origins, elevate us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be a citizen. Each child should learn these principles. Every citizen must respect them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.
Today we affirm a new commitment to living our nation’s promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.
America, at its best, is a principled commitment with a concern for civility. A civil society demands goodwill and respect, fair treatment and forgiveness from all of us.
May we all heed President Bush’s prophetic reminder of what it means to be an “American,” and may we all strive to live up to this noble heritage.
Dr Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 to July 2021. Upon retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and continues to be Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics. Dr Land previously served as Chairman of the Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr Land has also been an editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.
Dr. Land explores many current and critical topics in his daily radio show, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.