The eleventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks began with a vow to leave politics aside for a day, as both the Obama and Romney campaigns yanked their TV attack ads.
But in this heated campaign season a day of detente may have been too much to expect.
A Miami radio station aired an interview recorded two days ago with Obama in which the president knocked Mitt Romney’s comments about encouraging illegal immigrants to “self-deport” as “not the American way” and saying that the plans of Romney and Paul Ryan would end “Medicare as we know it.” The GOP responded by releasing the “rap sheet” of the station’s host, DJ Laz aka “the pimp with the limp,” which consisted of charges in the 1990s for weapons and petty larceny. The Obama campaign said it thought the interview was supposed to air Monday.
Still, political figures participated in commemorations at the sites of the attacks and beyond.
Obama and the first lady gathered with White House staff on the South Lawn to mark the moment of the attacks with silence. They traveled across the Potomac to attend the Sept. 11 observance ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial, remembering 184 people killed aboard American Airlines Flight 77 and on the ground when al-Qaeda hijackers plowed the plane into the Department of Defense.
“Eleven times we have marked another Sept. 11 come and gone,” Obama said at the Pentagon. “Eleven times we have paused with remembrance and reflection.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gathered employees in the courtyard of the Pentagon later for a special commemoration recognizing those who signed up to fight after the worst attack on American soil.
“Today we recognize the millions of Americans who stepped forward to answer that call and to serve in uniform,” Panetta said. “They are the latest in a proud lineage of Americans who raised their right hands in a time of need and volunteered to serve this country. They have carried the burden of protecting America for 11 years, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm. They are truly the ‘next greatest generation.'”
The Obamas then visited Walter Reed for a two-and-a-half-hour closed-press visit with three dozen wounded troops, during which Obama awarded two Purple Hearts. Obama and Biden met back at the White House later in the afternoon for a closed-door meeting with Panetta.
Vice President Joe Biden was in Shanksville, Pa., where 40 died after commandeering United Flight 93 from the hijackers, who had ominously turned the Newark-to-San Francisco flight back toward Washington.
“I said last year my mom used to have an expression. She’d say, Joey, bravery resides in every heart, and someday it will be summoned. It’s remarkable — remarkable — how it was not only summoned, but acted on,” Biden said.
“My guess is you’re living this moment that Yeats only wrote about, when he wrote, pray I will and sing I must, but yet I weep,” he told the victims’ families.
Romney greeted firefighters and first responders on an airport tarmac in Chicago after they held a moment of silence to mark the attacks, then flew on to Reno, Nev., to address the National Guard Association Convention.
“I wish I could say the world is less dangerous now – that it is less chaotic. I wish I could predict with certainty the threats we will face in the years ahead. But on September 10, 2001, we had no idea that America would be at war in Afghanistan. In December of 2010, we had no idea that a Tunisian street vendor would inspire a revolution that would topple three dictators,” Romney said. “We live in a time of turbulence and disruption. What I can say with certainty is that we need the National Guard’s vigilance and strength now as much as ever before.”
Ryan returned to his home state Wisconsin to meet with first responders and troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“For me, this is a day to remember those who perished on that day of terror, including the first responders. It is also a day to pay tribute to all those who have worked quietly and tirelessly both on the home front and abroad to prevent a repetition of such terrible events,” the congressman said in a statement. “And it is a day to give honor to those in our military who have sacrificed so much, including their lives, for the same end.”
No elected officials spoke at the annual commemoration ceremony at Ground Zero in New York.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN he was “not offended” that the ceremony was “a little more compact,” but “I’m upset that the memorial isn’t done yet.”
Congress gathered on the East steps this morning to sing “God Bless America,” an annual tradition that began on the evening of the terrorist attacks.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that time “will never dim the American people’s spirit of unity in the wake of the attacks.”
“Time will never diminish the courage of our police, firefighters and other — all the first responders,” she said. “And with the 9/11 health bill now the law of the land, our country will continue to stand by them in deed as well as in word.”
“We remember how worried some people were about what the attacks would do to America. Would it weaken us in the world? Would it weaken us at home? Would we stand up? Would we shrink?” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Well, 11 years later we can say with certainty and with pride that 9/11 didn’t reveal the weakness of America, it revealed the greatness of America.”
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) choked up as he remembered “the patriots who banded together in the sky over Shanksville to save this Capitol and these steps.”
“The professionals who did their duty, who ran in so that others could run out … the volunteers who raised their hands and said, ‘I’ll go,’ and now fight overseas in perilous conditions. The good Samaritans who lined up to give blood and ask, ‘What can I do?’ And the faithful on their knees in prayer, seeking God’s strength and guidance.”
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said there were “no credible threats today, much different than it was last year.”
In a day of remembrance, though, vigilance against another attack was urged despite a conspicuous absence of hawkish tone in the statements issued by members on both sides of the aisle.
“Osama Bin Laden is dead, but the War on Terror isn’t over. I remain committed to doing everything possible to make sure that America will never again fall victim to another vicious attack,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) tied that vigilance to the looming defense sequestration. “In order to keep America safe, our military must continue to remain the most capable in the world by possessing the resources necessary to protect our Nation and those fighting for us in harm’s way,” he said.
“American’s Mayor” said people naturally move on with their lives, but some things shouldn’t be forgotten.
“I think there always has to be a remembrance of what happened on this day forever and certainly now, because it’s not over yet. I mean, this is not a memorial, really. Pearl Harbor is a memorial. This is an ongoing war against us by Islamic extremist terrorists who want to come here this very day and do exactly the same thing they did 11 years ago and what they did in 1993,” Giuliani said.
“And we’re fortunate that we’ve stopped about 40 of these attacks. Meaning the government stopped 40 of these attacks, most of it by really good work, and every once in a while by just dumb luck like the attack in Detroit at Christmas Day two years ago.”