Months After Attacks, Gore Administration Still Looking For
By Scott Sloan
NEW YORK In the six months since the Sept. 11 attacks,
the crews are still toiling away to repair the wound in the
ground, as a nation tries to heal the wounds during the aftermath.
The Gore administration is locked with the Republican Congress
over how much aid should be given to the city. The attacks
which led to a bipartisan pledge to help the city has given
way to Republicans balking over giving New Yorkers the full
$20 billion asked for by the administration.
"It's like waiting in limbo," said Julie Wen, whose apartment
nearby was destroyed after the towers fell. Like so many others,
Julie has watched the Taliban government in Afghanistan crumble
under the relentless barrage of American military hardware.
But now that the mission in Afghanistan is nearly accomplished-save
for the all-important capture of killing of Sept. 11 mastermind
Osama bin Laden-fissures between the Gore administration and
the Republican Congress has called into question how long
America can keep its resolve in the war on terrorism.
But with New Yorkers trying to get back on their feet, the
Republican Congress has been less than forthcoming with aid.
Perhaps this explains why Gore's approval rating nation near
Ground Zero is in the high eighties, while nationwide it is
at an anemic 48% (although 78% of those polled said they approved
of the way the war was being handled). The feeling of bipartisan
sympathy for New York can officially be called over since
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott criticized New Yorkers soon
after the request for aid was put through.
"Perhaps the New York liberals should take a good look at
themselves and the way they happily embrace a culture of death
before expecting a bailout from the rest of us." Lott said.
Although Lott later apologized for the remark, many on both
sides of the aisles seem to agree that only a fraction of
the $200 million requested will be granted by Congress - most
of that going to infrastructure and support of emergency police
fire and rescue squads.
One thing for certain is that the initial feeling of national
unity has quickly unraveled into a morass of partisan bickering.
Most of the blame, Republicans say, can be laid at the feet
of an administration which lacks the popular mandate and the
credibility to lead the nation in war.
"The real question is, how does Al Gore retain a shed of
credibility after being the first president to have the American
mainland attacked on his watch since the War of 1812?" asked
Lott. A year after taking office, President Gore still faces
questions about the legitimacy of his presidency, following
the contentious 2000 election that has left Republicans embittered
and conservatives around the country mobilized in his opposition.
"There's no doubt that the election has hurt Gore in his efforts
to mobilize the political establishment after the September
11 attacks," said one state department adviser.
In the immediate weeks after the attacks, Republicans temporarily
laid aside their objections to the administration's lack of
bipartisanship in the first few months of the Gore presidency.
At the outset, Gore loaded his administration with stalwart
Democrats and had pushed an uncompromisingly liberal economic
package with little to no input from Republicans. In spite
of this criticism, administration officials remain dismissive
of charges from Republicans that their input was not welcome.
"We think that in this time of war, we should come together
not as Democrats or Republicans, but rather as Americans,"
said Gore spokesman William Daley. But those words are ringing
hollow among even the staunchest supporters of the military.
"There's no doubt that Al Gore's ideological intransigence
is hurting the country now just as we need to be coming together,"
said maverick Republican senator John McCain.
Ironically, the success of the military efforts to destroy
the Taliban threatens to further shake a presidency that in
the first year could best be described as rocky. The Enron
fiasco prompted a new round of investigations both from Congress
and from special prosecutor John Ashcroft, who was already
probing Gore's involvement in a 1996 fundraiser at a Buddhist
temple during Bill Clinton's re-election campaign.
Not surprisingly Gore's people call it a "witch hunt" while
congressional leaders continue to criticize the media for
underreporting the Enron affair.
"You just know that, if these things had come to light if
George Bush had been elected, the liberal media would be hounding
him day and night," said Sen. Lott. Those sentiments were
echoed on the House side by Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas,
who has personally lobbied Enron CEO Kenneth Lay to testify
about Enron investments made by top Gore aides.
"The liberal media, with its hatred of America wouldn't hesitate
to endanger national security by focusing on this issue at
a time of war if George Bush had been elected. So we can't
just let this get swept under the rug just because the media
chooses to do so," DeLay said.
In the past weeks, the Gore administration has tried to point
to its unqualified success in removing the Taliban government
from Afghanistan. But that threatens to be overshadowed by
a new allegation. Special prosecutor Ashcroft has formally
asked the Department of Justice to give him the authority
to look into whether the administration had ignored evidence
of a terrorist attack on the United States before September
11, but did nothing.
Congressman Dan Burton, chair of the House Governmental Affairs
Committee said that the need for an investigation arises from
a story that ran in Newsweek the week before the tragedies
in New York and Washington. The article highlights an on an
upcoming book on the inside story of the Supreme Court's 5-4
ruling that did not allow Bush's case to be heard following
the 2000 election.
"It would be wrong to allow this administration to use the
cloak of national security to sweep these very serious questions
under the table," said Burton, who also said he does not believe
the administration deliberately allowed the attacks to divert
attention from its own troubles.
Even before the attacks, there were rumblings that the cabinet
picked by Gore did not reflect mainstream American attitude,
even with a high-profile Republican sitting as Secretary of
Defense. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice have particularly been targeted for
criticism for the decision to drop humanitarian aid into Afghanistan,
and for their role in installing Afghanistan's interim prime
minister, Hamid Karzai, who reportedly has links with the
government of Pakistan, a supporter of the Taliban regime.
Rice in particular has been under harsh scrutiny, being dubbed
the "Taliban Queen" by her Republican critics, and may be
forced to resign in the coming weeks.
"This administration is picking up where the Clinton administration
has left off by engaging in nation building and showing weakness
and indecision in a time of great crisis," McCain said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has fared a little better,
although during his confirmation hearings, McCain had questioned
Rumsfeld's fitness based on his tenure with the Ford administration:
"Let's face it, Donald Rumsfeld was at the center of the Pentagon
when America had a hollow army back in the seventies."
But McCain's criticism of Rumsfeld has been tempered as the
war wears on. The same could not be said for former Health
and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. The long-serving
Democratic governor of Wisconsin came under fire early in
his tenure when rumors of marital infidelity began to leak
out. More disturbingly, however, was a widely-circulated audio
tape of the then-governor addressing a Green Bay Packers'
post Super-Bowl Rally in early 1998.
In the tape, Thompson is noticeably slurring his words as
he addresses a stadium crowd, which gave rise to accusations
that he has a drinking problem. The accusations would not
go away, despite vehement denials both by Thompson and administration
officials. Thompson resigned under pressure from members of
his own party after then anthrax scare. "It is absolutely
imperative that the American people are assured that the nation's
top health official is up to the task during this domestic
crisis," said Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
With all of these issues on his plate, many Washington observers
agree that Gore will have a hard time getting his footing
in the months to come. Although one Republican pundit has
called the Gore presidency "dead on arrival," a turn in the
war and a chance that the economy will improve could keep
the administration afloat. Republicans are in a tricky position
to support the war effort while criticizing the president
on an array of issues. The mood of the conservatives is best
summed up by Lott who said:
"We all want to support the war effort and support the commander
in chief, but let's face it, any president would be doing
the same thing in this situation. Let's not let Al Gore's
friends in the liberal media use this tragedy to try to make
him out to be some kind of a hero."
Scott Sloan is a writer, journalist and reality broker
living in Taos, NM. He has published a book of poetry titled