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May 6, 2011

Thursday at Ground Zero: The Prideful Left Behind by the Modest

Photo: John Angelillo/Pool via Bloomberg via Getty Images.  caption: .Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, left, follows U.S. President Barack Obama during a visit to firefighters at the headquarters of Engine Company 54, Ladder Company 4 and Battalion 9, in New York, U.S., on Thursday, May 5, 2011. The firehouse lost 15 members, the single largest loss of life of any firehouse among the 343 firefighters who died during the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Obama will go to New York’s ‘Ground Zero’ today, seeking to provide some closure to the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil now that the world’s most hunted terrorist, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, won’t be ‘walking on this earth again.’

Looking at Obama’s visit to Ground Zero yesterday in recognition of the death of Osama bin Laden, certain critics have referred to it as a “victory lap (1, 2). In fact, Obama — mindful of a need to recognize the “first responders” and the victim’s families — genuinely disinterested and purposely saddened by all the subtleties of the 9/11 situation, has taken a very low key approach.  (Of course, you can page through this NYT slideshow and judge for yourself.)

photo: Timothy A Clary/Getty Images. caption: US President Barack Obama arrives with staff where he will lay a wreath at Ground Zero may 5, 2011 and meet families of the 9/11 victims, just days after ordering the operation which eliminated Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.)

Bush would have likely had a celebration with a vetted group of flag waving, face painted supporters–all staged for the next election, or else made a big point of understatement, as if turning down the crown three times out of “modesty”.  Obama’s engagement, primarily with the families, but also with the “first responders” from the local police and fire stations (as emphasized in the shiny White House photo below), was mostly intimate.

It may be just the personality difference and Obama may be generally mindful of  retaliation, but it’s going to be interesting to see how Obama’s “modesty/strength” (his personality, but also a strategy) plays out in the election. We’re still rather reptilian.  And Obama is very “Christian” about the whole thing (and I say that because of his ethic, not because I think he’s actually religious).

photo: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. caption: President Barack Obama and firefighters toast during a lunch at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 Firehouse in New York, N.Y., May 5, 2011. The firehouse, known as the “Pride of Midtown,” lost 15 firefighters on 9/11 — an entire shift and more than any other New York Firehouse. The 15 men killed had 28 children between them. Firefighters from Engine 54 were the first to arrive on the scene for the attempted Times Square bombing last year.

Honestly, linking about the contrast in personalities in the first photo above, I’m not sure America will get it.

– Karen Hull

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