On Monday, congressional Democrats and Republicans will stand together on the front steps of the U.S. Capitol to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on America.
As they did five years ago, lawmakers will temporarily set aside partisanship to collectively acknowledge the gravity of the day. Unlike five years ago, though, the bipartisanship of the moment will be short lived.
The solemn occasion has the unfortunate distinction of falling smack in the middle of the run up to this fall’s congressional elections — when Democrats hope to win back at least one, if not both, houses of Congress.
With poll after poll buttressing their hopes for victory, Democrats want to keep the pressure on. As a result, every Democratic action taken in Congress over the remaining legislative days will be carefully crafted to ensure maximum political advantage. Bipartisanship, solemnity, resolve, steadfastness and a commitment to defeat an enemy bent on our destruction — the same enemy who attacked us five years ago — are tired notions that seemingly have no place in the liberal campaign to retake Congress.
Conservative Sen. Jon Kyl took the Senate floor this week with this issue in mind. Kyl, who’s running for reelection in Arizona, extolled a recent speech by President Bush in which the president framed the ongoing long war as “the great ideological struggle of the 21st century,” and as “the calling of our generation.”
That speech, said Kyl, makes it clear that this conflict will not be won “by deciding that the fight is too difficult and that there are places where this struggle is occurring where we just cannot prevail. We cannot send a message to our enemies, let alone to our allies, that we are not up to the struggle, wherever it may break out.”
Kyl delivered this speech as the Senate was debating a defense spending bill. He seemed to be criticizing the plethora of amendments offered and speeches given by liberals in the Senate, who have effectively said “enough is enough.”
Later, New York Democrat Hillary Clinton took the Senate floor to lambaste Republicans. “What we have here is a failure of leadership,” cried Clinton. “What was hailed as our shortest war has now become one of our longest.” Clinton’s implication, of course, is that the President’s “great ideological struggle of the 21st century” is no such thing, and that certainly it is not the “calling of a generation.” After all, great struggles and callings require perseverance, which Democrats determined to regain control of power in Washington seemingly have no time for.
But what they do have time for is short-term politicking on the floors of the House and Senate. Debate on the defense spending bill this week was highlighted by a Democratic amendment offered by California liberal Barbara Boxer that calls for the replacement of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The resolution is non-binding and purely political, but many Democrats joined in the effort anyway. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, speaking about the resolution, claimed, “We need to change course, and it starts at the top with President Bush.”
No wonder Kyl appeared to have doubts about the authenticity of the scheduled show of bipartisanship this Monday.
As he was speaking about the approaching anniversary, Kyl said the purpose of the capitol steps events was “to demonstrate to the American people that the attacks on America will not deter us from our business or our commitment to protect the American people.” Kyl continued, “When we do that, we need to mean what we say. Our ability to make good on that commitment will depend, first and foremost, on our understanding of the nature of this threat and our ability and willingness to confront it.”
That will be true, no matter which party prevails in November.