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Six Months After Attacks, Gore Administration Still Looking For Unity
March 5, 2002
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 1280 Pop.

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