Ron Fournier is having 9/11 nightmares:
... I can't shake another, darker, question. What if we get hit again with a 9/11-sized attack? More to the point, hypothetically, would a crisis pull us together or drive us apart? It's a morbid question worth asking before the worst happens, because there's reason to worry about the durability of what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."Republicans get a share of the blame for post-9/11 partisanship in Fournier's telling, though Both Sides Did It, of course:
... Three months after the attacks, Democrats mildly questioned parts of the USA Patriot Act, and Attorney General John Ashcroft said such questions "erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." Time has proved the legislation to be excessive.But Fournier frets that we're so much more partisan now. I'd respond that Republicans were pretty damn partisan during the real 9/11 -- faced with Democratic support for a war against bin Laden, Republicans turned a plan to attack Iraq into a wedge issue for the 2002 midterms, then turned support for a "war president" into a minimal standard for patriotism in 2004.
Two months later, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle stepped up criticism of Bush's antiterrorism policies. In response, Republican Rep. Tom Davis accused the Democrat of "giving aid and comfort to our enemies." It was the start of a years-long strategy of the Bush administration to stoke and exploit fears of a post-9/11 attack to enhance the president's standing and defang Democrats.
The false front of bipartisanship crumbled in May of 2002 when the bin Laden memo leaked. According to a helpful chronology compiled by Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan, Democrats demanded to know what else Bush knew about the attacks beforehand. White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said second-guessing is "exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do."
The pattern was set for the rest of Bush's term. Democrats seized on (and often exaggerated) any morsel of evidence that undermined Bush's tough-on-terrorists image, and the White House seized on (and often exaggerated) any development that underscored its narrative. The Bush team created a new story line by invading Iraq based on evidence of weapons of mass destruction that was distorted, hyped, and, in some cases, contrived....
It's always been easy to imagine that the Republican response to a 9/11 under a Democratic president would be rabid and divisive. But then why didn't Republicans try to turn the Fort Hood shootings or the Boston Marathon bombing into major anti-Obama rallying cries? And yes, the Republicans have been obsessed with Benghazi, but, outside the GOP base, the public has mostly shrugged. Rabid partisanship often doesn't connect.
Of course Republicans would be inclined to attack Obama mercilessly in the aftermath of a second 9/11, but there'd almost certainly be too much unifying sentiment in the media -- teary montages of the victims' lives and all that -- for attacks on Obama to gain much purchase in the immediate aftermath of the event.
And what would the president do? He'd go to war. Are John McCain and Lindsey Graham going to say no to a war? Oh, sure, they'd piss and moan about the inadequacy of the response, but they'd want at least as much war as the president was willing to give them. The alleged anti-interventionists in the GOP would -- as they always do -- fall silent.
The long-term right-wing response would be to put Obama under a permanent cloud of suspicion. There'd be select committees holding contentious hearings and mounting multiple investigations. But Republicans' impulse to crush the president always competes with the impulse to sustain rage against him. Republicans need Obama -- they have no agenda to put forth, so their agenda is "Obama sucks!" I think they'd rather have him around as a target than actually destroy him.
Would they succeed in dividing the country? Well, it's already divided. Obama certainly wouldn't go to 90% approval in an attack's aftermath -- I don't think he would have reached that level even in 2009, when his approval rating was in the 60s -- just because a third of the country will always hate any Democratic president. I think Republicans wouldn't try to remove Obama from office, and then the question would be whether the public believed his response to the attack was what they wanted it to be. Fournier frets that we were "united" right after 9/11 and "divided" later, but what ultimately divided the public was the increasing realization that the Iraq war was fought on false pretenses, combined with the failure to neutralize Osama bin Laden and the inability to bring peace and order to either Afghanistan or Iraq. And even then, it took Katrina and Terri Schiavo and an attempt to privatize Social Security to turn the public fully against Bush. Until then, no matter how much fighting there was in Washington, the public was (too) patient, for years. Bush did win in 2004, despite Abu Ghraib and the Battle of Fallujah and all that.
The aftermath of a second 9/11 would get ugly. But I think America would give Obama some leeway, and compel Republicans to restrain their anti-Obama bloodlust just a bit.