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“The Pet Goat” as Phony Campaign Issue #6
Seven minutes with children as the World Trade Center burned.

by Barnabas
August 11, 2004

"Had I been reading to children and had my top aide whisper in my ear that America is under attack, I would have told those kids very nicely and politely that the president of the United States has something that he needed to attend to,'' Kerry said. "And I would have attended to it.'' —, August 6.

Ironically, I always thought that the way the President took the news of 9/11, while on camera and in the presence of children, was one of his finer moments. I was watching when the President, listening to a reading exercise in a Florida classroom, was given a brief message from his aide informing him quietly of the attack. The President remained in his place. He probably was not as attentive to "The Pet Goat"- the story that was being read - as he had been, but he continued lending his presence to those children for seven more minutes.

Whatever his reason, and perhaps it was more intuition than reason, I say "Good for him." I did not read his expression as dismay; wide-eyed surprise certainly, but not paralysis or uncertainty. The symbolism of remaining controlled was more powerful than dashing away would have been. At the level of the Presidency, in other people’s judgment, there is always something more important to do. But in an emergency, the President sets the priorities. It takes a lot longer than seven minutes to save the country: it might take that long to process the initial information and come up with a coherent response. Thinking on your feet is not synonymous with shooting from the hip. In the meantime, maybe the best thing to do is to continue to honor the children by remaining with them a bit longer.

I don’t know that Kerry’s criticism of the President rises to the status of a Phony Issue; it may go no higher than Stupid Blunder or Embarrassing Slip. But he shouldn’t have said it, and if the Republicans call him on it he shouldn’t defend it. There is more than one way, emotionally and intellectually, to respond to a crisis. The content of a presidential response is a legitimate issue, but not the incidental actions and decisions that attend it.

There is plenty to criticize on both sides of this campaign. We do not need lectures from hindsight on the manner in which the candidates responded in the past, nor to be flooded with criticisms of inconsequential past actions. It’s the results of their consequential past actions, and the ideas they propound now, that are on the table for debate in this campaign.

For the same reason, it’s time for the Kerry campaign to put Ensign Kerry’s medals back in the trunk and that Swift Boat in mothballs. We’re glad to know about them, but not to hear about them and hear about them and hear about them.

About the Author:
Barnabas thinks presidential politics is important. He also spent several hours of his vacation using a long-handled sickle and following the lawnmowers with a rake and a pitchfork to clear an overgrown yard. That also is important, and in some ways not that different from writing about political campaigns.

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