Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


The Presidential Address

Aired November 8, 2001 - 20:35   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: For an audience filled with postal workers and firefighters, policemen and women, public health service workers and others, "we have our marching orders," he said. "My fellow Americans, let's roll."

It is not a speech of new plans, in many ways, simply a restatement of a message the administration has been trying to make for the last two months, trying to balance security, homeland security and a normal life. And it's a complicated message. And it's taken a while to find the right words. And we'll see if the President found them today in Atlanta.

Jeff Greenfield is with us -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I think, Aaron, that's exactly right, that in contrast to the September 20th speech, which was one of the most dramatic and consequential moments any president's ever placed, it's now almost two months later and the president had to give a progress report. And also, I think, for the first time, he had to actually even implicitly defend against some criticisms.

Yes, Tom Ridge has the authority he needs. Yes, we are going to put the federal government in charge of airport security. Yes, there was a reason for those terror alerts. Yes, we will be safe.

Nothing direct, but all those lines in response to a kind of undercurrent rumbling of gee, do we really know what we're doing in these areas, which I thought was a striking departure from the kind of speech on September 20th, where you were simply trying to take a nation, and literally, almost, put it back on its feet.

BROWN: John King, our senior White House correspondent is in Atlanta with the president. John, first reaction?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the words behind the president perhaps as important as any words he's spoken himself: the words "united we stand." As Jeff just noted, we're two months removed from this now. Some might not like the hassle of long lines at airports. Some might question the effectiveness of the military strategy. How has the government responded to these anthrax mailings? Why can't it answer the questions about where the anthrax is coming from?

So two months into this, the president pulling it all together, is the way the White House described this, describing just what the government is doing, but at the same time reminding Americans of how we got here to begin with, the stories of those people aboard the hijacked planes, the heroism of the policemen, the firefighters, the health workers. The president trying to keep together the remarkable coalition he has here at home.

We talk often about the coalition and the strength of it, and we debate the strength of it overseas. The president has a remarkable coalition here at home right now. But it is important as we get into partisan fights over the stimulus plan, over airline security, as people raise legitimate questions about the effectiveness of the strategy here and abroad, the president trying to keep that coalition here at home. That was his main mission here tonight.

BROWN: John, stay around. We'll talk more. We'll take a short break. We'll continue our coverage of the president's speech from Atlanta tonight in just a moment.


BROWN: We're joined now to talk a little bit more about the President's speech by Michael Kinsley in Washington, writer, and by Rich Lowry, "The National Review" here in New York. Nice to see you both.

Michael, start with you. The White House talked today about asking Americans to sacrifice new responsibilities. I wonder if you think the President is in fact asking enough of Americans right now?

MICHAEL KINSLEY, SLATE.COM: Well, I was a little disappointed, although I thought the speech was quite good in general, that given the billing he didn't make more of an issue of the need for sacrifice, because I do think that the theme of American politics, since 1980, has been the free lunch. And if ever the free lunch was over, it is now.

And he has used the "s" word, the word sacrifice, but he hasn't really said specifically, as I thought he might tonight, life will be not just different, but worse in some rather minor but nevertheless real ways.

BROWN: Or at least more difficult. Rich, do you think in that sense, the president, maybe politicians generally in the country, are really afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice?

RICH LOWRY, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, I think it's a nettlesome issue for any government, Aaron, because what people essentially want from a government, at the most basic level, getting down to Hobbesian terms, is security. They want freedom from fear. They want to be protected.

And this is a federal government right now that can't guarantee that. And it's very difficult for any government to admit that. So I think that's why we have the mixed message out of this administration that everyone's been complaining about. It's very difficult to go out and say: "Look guys, be scared. We don't know where this anthrax is coming from. We don't know when it might hit next." That's very tough to say.

BROWN: All right, since you turned the conversation to that, did the president do one of the things he therefore needed to do, was to try and find the right words and the right tone in the right away to say to people, "Yes, live your life normally, but oh, by the way"?

LOWRY: I think if you're going to pull out a thesis statement, like an eighth grade English teacher would from this speech, it would the line that "Being alert is different from being intimidated, and we're not going to be intimidated." And I think that's as well as you can do in the sort of the neatest way to try to explain and defend all of these FBI alerts that the administration has been taking such heat over.

BROWN: Michael, you're out in Seattle I do believe, aren't you?

KINSLEY: Yes, I am.

BROWN: I'm curious how -- it's a town I know pretty well. I'm curious how out West, how this is all playing? Is Seattle a city on edge? Are Seattleites anxious people these days? Do Seattleites need this reassurance or is it just Washington and New Yorkers?

KINSLEY: I think it's much, much more vivid in Washington and in New York, than in Seattle and the other places I've been out here. The local TV stations were for a while, I don't know if they still are, referring to this episode as the terror on the East Coast. And I don't think that was meant in any malicious way, but there was just a certain natural distancing going on.

I thought that actually Bush did very well at resolving rhetorically the contradiction that you can't resolve logically, which is the one you stated at the beginning, Aaron, which on one hand, everything has changed and we must rise to this occasion as the great people we are. And on the other hand, we must continue on with our lives as if nothing has changed, in order not to give the terrorists a victory.

And as I said, there's no logical way to resolve that, but he did quite well at rhetorically resolving it with the line Rich mentioned and others. Essentially saying, let's go on about our business and rise to the special challenge.

BROWN: You'd like in these situations, Michael, to be able to follow an important speech with an important action to build the next day on this. Do you think the administration right now on this kind of reassuring the nation question has a broader plan? Or are they just coming out every day and repeat the message and repeat the message?

KINSLEY: Well, there's no broader plan that I know about, but of course I wouldn't know. I think even if they had a broader plan, repeating the message and repeating message is one of the things that you have to do in a situation like this.

BROWN: All right.

KINSLEY: I wouldn't be too hard on them for that.

BROWN: I'm not too hard on them at all. I think the message -- it takes a while -- it's not an easy -- as we were just talking, Rich, it's not an easy message because it's not an easy concept. The world changed or least our world changed. And certainly those who live in this city get it, but I think people across the country get it.

And maybe that is what has to happen. You just have to keep saying it and keep living your lives. And each day that nothing -- the other shoe doesn't drop gets you closer to calm.

LOWRY: Right. But you know, on the other hand, I think it's very -- they have to be very careful about issuing false reassurances. And they should really look at the Giuliani model here.

Why was he so successful? Because if he didn't know something, he would say he didn't know. And he's just very careful about never saying anything that was wrong. And in the initial leaks here, you know, maybe there's excuse because no one's had to deal with this sort of threat before, but they said things that were wrong. And that's inexcusable.

And by the way, I think eventually the administration may have to admit, and this will be difficult to do, that the Tom Ridge thing is not working out.

BROWN: You keep opening new doors. And now I have to close one. Rich, thank you for coming in. Michael, it's good to talk to you again.

KINSLEY: Thank you, Aaron.

BROWN: Larry King at 9:00 will have more on this. We'll see you at 10:00 for "NEWSNIGHT." We hope you'll join us. Coming up next, "THE POINT." We'll see you later.




Back to the top