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An anniversary we didn't want

"An anniversary we didn't want" Continued...

Issue: "9/11 remembered," Aug. 17, 2002

Congress

What a difference a year makes. Shortly after Sept. 11, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol to sing "God Bless America," vowing to put aside party differences for the good of a nation under attack. Motivated by genuine patriotism (and President Bush's intimidating poll numbers), Congress quickly OK'd every request coming out of the Republican White House.

As the year progressed, three things happened: al-Qaeda was routed in Afghanistan, the president's poll numbers eased, and Election Day drew nearer. That combination emboldened Democrats to challenge their commander in chief on domestic issues and foreign policy.

By the time Congress recessed in early August, the harmony of last September was all but forgotten. Democrats in the Senate refused to pass the president's request for a new, cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security and tried to embarrass the White House on domestic issues such as corporate accounting and prescription drugs.

Even the war on terrorism became fair game for partisan bickering, with Democrats pressing for an independent investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks and demanding that the president obtain Senate approval before invading Iraq.

President Bush

Even clothing styles changed in the wake of Sept. 11. All across the country, "He's not my president" T-shirts disappeared, replaced by the ubiquitous "God Bless America" fashion statement. The terrorist attacks had done what the Supreme Court could never do: impart legitimacy to an embattled administration.

And not just legitimacy, but unprecedented popularity. In his televised address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush calmed a nation's nerves. With his embrace of exhausted rescue workers at Ground Zero, he touched a nation's heart. His poll numbers quickly doubled, notching 90 percent approval levels and staying there throughout the shooting war in Afghanistan.

As Democrats began jockeying for political advantage and the Afghan war turned into a mere occupation, those numbers finally began to come down. The latest Zogby Poll shows the president still enjoying a 62 percent approval rating, 12 points better than pre-Sept. 11, but well off his record. Economic worries and political wrangling may erode those numbers still further, but Mr. Bush has forever quieted critics who initially found him vaguely unpresidential. His huge popularity may even help Republicans take back the Senate in November's elections-not bad for a man once accused of "stealing" his own.

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