It may have been his finest speech, revealing both his character and ours. It was loving and eloquent, and resisted the urge (which Obama did not, nine years later) to turn this into a “It’s a Small World” moment of diversity platitudes. George W. Bush on September 14, 2001:
In this trial, we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. We see our national character in rescuers working past exhaustion; in long lines of blood donors; in thousands of citizens who have asked to work and serve in any way possible. And we have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice. Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend. A beloved priest died giving the last rites to a firefighter. Two office workers, finding a disabled stranger, carried her down sixty-eight floors to safety. A group of men drove through the night from Dallas to Washington to bring skin grafts for burn victims.
In these acts, and in many others, Americans showed a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country. Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called the warm courage of national unity. This is a unity of every faith, and every background. It is evident in services of prayer and candlelight vigils and American flags, which are displayed in pride and waved in defiance. Our unity is a kinship of grief and a steadfast resolve to prevail against our enemies. And this unity against terror is now extending across the world.
Obama managed to get through an entire 9/11 speech yesterday with three perfunctory references to God:
1) For our nation, this is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and — with God’s grace — a day of unity and renewal.
2) On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves — as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
3) May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
Bush in 2001:
In many of our prayers this week, there’s a searching and an honesty. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, on Tuesday, a woman said, “I pray to God to give us a sign that He’s still here.”
Others have prayed for the same, searching hospital to hospital, carrying pictures of those still missing. God’s signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey, and there are prayers that yield our will to a Will greater than our own.
This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.
Bush ended with this:
On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.
As we’ve been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God’s love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country. God bless America.
Yes, Bush’s speech was in a cathedral and days after the attack. But it was perfectly emblematic of his beliefs and outlook. And his religious faith was expressed in the many speeches, including those on the 9/11 anniversaries, that followed. From 2002:
We cannot know all that lies ahead. Yet, we do know that God had placed us together in this moment, to grieve together, to stand together, to serve each other and our country. And the duty we have been given — defending America and our freedom — is also a privilege we share. We’re prepared for this journey. And our prayer tonight is that God will see us through, and keep us worthy.
Obama doesn’t talk this way — and it’s fair to conclude he would be uncomfortable doing so. No one suggests he should employ language that doesn’t reflect his core beliefs. But then the White House should stop complaining that Obama’s religious faith remains murky to many Americans.
Obama was lauded as a great orator. Ironically, he hasn’t given a single memorable speech in his presidency. In this and so many other ways, he is not-Bush.