By Carter B. Horsley
Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City,
may well be best remembered as the first important American politician
to admit he was not infallible, a very important ratcheting down
of the mythic status of leaders especially in an era of mass communications.
Honesty and reasonableness, however, are not
the only hallmarks of a good politician.
We look to politicians for leadership even
though not all will be called upon to demonstrate it.
Indeed, in the laissez-faire culture of America
at the end of the 20th Century daring enterprise polling and catering
to the "center" were the rule of the day even as the
complexities of modern society and the pace of change continue
Even though governments have been trimming
their bureaucracies for some time, the mechanisms of government
are still huge enough for the ships of state to continue to move
ahead regardless of direction from the top, to a great extent,
although of course from time to time there are significant policy
The terrifying and tragic events of the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001, however, brought to the fore the
critical need for competent political leadership.
In the aftermath of the attacks, the patriotic
resiliency of the nation and New York City shone brightly and
The City Review
generally is non-partisan and avoids political endorsements as
its principal interests are specific issues rather than personalities
nor political dogma or party allegiance. The terrorist attacks,
of course, were events out of the ordinary with very far-reaching
repercussions, many of which are still to be felt and dealt with,
so The City Review feels compelled to comment on the issue
It can, and should, be said, that President
Bush and Mayor Giuliani exhibited extraordinary leadership in
Their leadership was all the more remarkable
because it was rather unexpected. Their prior public persona gave
little hint that they could summon up such a tremendous reservoir
of sensitivity and sobriety, intelligence and intuition. President
Bush was widely regarded as a likable "light-weight,"
at least intellectually, and Mayor Giuliani's reputation was that
of a rather arrogant, censorious, albeit efficient, autocrat.
The former seemed beholden to a considerable
extent to conservative elements within the Republican Party and
the latter never strayed far from his law-and-order roots as a
former District Attorney. Such ties, of course, do not imply a
narrowness of vision, but certainly intimate the focus of their
visions and priorities. Both are Republicans in good standing,
supporters of minimal government, traditional "American"
values, the rule of law and a strong economy.
In his public remarks after the attacks, President
Bush, who had often seemed barely unable to suppress "Gee,
I'm the President" giggles in some of his early speeches,
was brilliant. His demeanor was firm but patient, caring but cautious,
moving but mature, and genuinely sincere. As he had promised in
his campaign rhetoric, he was compassionate. His first main speech
after the attacks was sensational and while it may have lacked
the great phrases of a FDR and the oratorical genius of a JFK
it was masterful and the nation, the world and New York City immediately
looked upon him with new respect and not a little surprise. His
response was very reasoned and not knee-jerk vindictiveness. While
some people had been apprehensive about his foreign policy capabilities,
it was immediately clear from his comments and those of his top
associates such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President
Richard Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeldt that
this Bush Administration was very intelligent, sophisticated and
The crisis was about as bad as it could be
and President Bush was about as wonderful as anyone could have
imagined. He was calm and determined, and conveyed well the nation's
outrage while resassuring it of the resolve to not only maintain
stability, but also to seek out justice, and rebuild.
The dimensions of the terrorists' initial attacks
and the subsequent anthrax scares unsettled the country to a degree
without parallel since the Civil War, surpassing in its graphic
immediacy even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War
II. The shockwaves of the attacks not only resulted in the deaths
of more than 5,000 Americans, but also unhinged an already fragile
economy and radically altered many of the routines of American
life. (The death toll from the terrorist attacks subsequently
was reduced to about 3,000.)
Any weakness on the part of President Bush
under such circumstances would have seriously exacerbated these
awesome problems, but his strength under fire significantly helped
to contain what really can only be described as understandable
He did what he had to do, of course, but with
great grace and sufficient authority to inspire very great confidence
in his leadership.
His actions came after those of Mayor Giuliani
whose response to the crisis was fabulous. Mayor Giuliani was
tireless and incredibly active, galzanizing New York City in support
of the families of the missing, the heroic rescue-workers and
the city's frazzled, anxious, stunned, shocked, perplexed and
very worried citizens.
His was a comforting, reassurance presence.
He became Big Daddy, not in the cantankerous Tennessee Williams
sense, but in the noble tradition of gentle father figures, the
Jimmy Stewart of "It's a Wonderful Life." His rhetoric
was not as eloquent as Winston Churchill's, but his actions were.
It came as no great surprise that Time Magazine named him its
"Man of the Year" in December, 2001.
Both the President and the mayor had to manage
the great stress of millions of people while also mobilizing enormous
efforts to deal with the devastating situations. They both did
so, admirably, without hesitation, and, impressively, without
major mistakes, although the mayor made a misstep in suggesting
he remain in office for a while after his term was to end in January,
which bought him some criticism but did not take away from the
almost universal acclaim he gained for his remarkable, steady
and constant leadership.
It is one thing to have stratagems and plans
and visions and quite another to call upon, and find, inner "guts"
in desperate times. The President and the mayor exhibited the
virtues we all hope we have but really do not know under extreme
The country and the city are extremely fortunate
that its leaders rose to the horrific occasion.
Both men demonstrated the best "American"
character and carefully led the country away from wildness and
towards the exceeding difficult tasks of coping with very real
and very ugly problems.
Both men fathomed the nobility of the American
"way," and harnessed the horses of honor that reaffirmed
the nation's basic principles of freedom and respect.
They were not alone, of course. The rescue-workers
at the World Trade Center inspired the nation with their selfless
dedication to their tasks and many stars of the entertainment
firmament proudly donated their talents and Britain's Prime Minister
Tony Blair was exceptionally supportive in bolstering confidence
in the supremacy of the notion of freedom and the community of
These have been civic lessons no one wants
to learn in such hard fashion.
The experience has been cathartic. Patriotism
has been unfurled in this country as never before, not in a chauvinistic
and selfish way but in a manner that has uplifted the souls of
just about everyone. Who has not seen the images of the collapsing
towers and the posters of the missing and not shed a tear? Who
has not been moved by the great outpouring of commiseration, community
and compassion? Who is not thankful that the President and the
mayor were fortunately, and very responsively and responsibly,
at their helms?
The troubles have not gone away. There are
likely to be more. The shocks continue, but the nation and the
city have survived the terrible onslaught with the highest distinction
and from it the best "spirit" of this land of hope has
The scars of all this stress shall not vanish
soon, but neither shall the resonance of good character and common
sense manifested by the President and the Mayor. (One should note,
in fairness, that New York Governor Pataki also was a fine role
model in the crisis, following the lead of Mayor Giuliani in reassuring
omnipresence.) These leaders did not shy away from ugly truths,
or indulge in melodramatic rhetoric, but instead plunged into
the problems and were forthright in their assessments of them.
In an age of global 24/7 communications, such
are the rules by which they must engage themselves.
Violence, sadly, is not a new phenomenon in
America, but the events of September 11, 2001 certainly upped
the ante to intolerable dimensions. While recent school shootings
and the continued proliferation of violence in American culture
have been very disturbing, they were, by and large, taken in stride
and minimized. The September 11, 2001 acts, however, have struck
deeper chords and seemed to rekindled more humanitarianism. The
country's acceptance of New York City into the American community
has been heartening, as has the outpouring of civic activism by
New Yorkers inspired in large part by the examples of Mayor Giuliani
and President Bush.
Problems are more important than promises.
In making every effort to deal with the problems, President Bush
and Mayor Giuliani's actions held out the promise of better tomorrows,
of "another day."
Individuals do make a difference.