The aftermath of the terrorist attacks produced massive insecurity and great idealism. Most of us re-examined our lives and our relationships to family and community. But the passions of last fall have been tempered by the highs and lows of everyday life. As we remember September 11 and take stock of how our country and our lives have (or have not) changed, the paths of some political figures reflect what we have all gone through.
In New York, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who had experienced personal humiliation and a life-threatening illness just months before the attacks, emerged as a national hero and political mega-star. He was made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth and was the big draw at a National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner where they raised $7.5 million for this year's candidates. NRCC Chair Tom Davis said, "These days Rudy Giuliani is the Good Housekeeping Seal of approval. He has no negatives." He may come down to earth some years hence if he gets back into the political fray, but this week his hometown paper, The New York Times, speculated about Giuliani's vice-presidential chances if Dick Cheney withdraws in 2004, and whether he could be the first New York City mayor to go on to higher office since 1868.
In Tennessee, Republican Senator Fred Thompson spent the days leading up to Sept. 11 mulling his future and reading David McCullough's biography of John Adams. Thompson was frustrated when the Republicans lost control of the Senate and he lost his chairmanship of the Governmental Affairs Committee. His campaign-finance hearings hadn't catapulted him into the national spotlight the way he had hoped and he was thinking that now might be the time to leave the Senate and go out and make some money. But Sept. 11 changed his mind and recommitted him to public service.
By this spring, however, much of that ardor had worn off and Thompson decided to leave the Senate after all. His 39-year-old daughter had died and he decided to get remarried and look to his personal life for the fulfillment he wasn't finding in Washington. "I simply don't have the heart for another six-year term," he said.
In North Carolina, Erskine Bowles also reversed a decision to bow out of politics, but he stuck with it. In May of 2001, Bowles, chief of staff under President Clinton, announced that he would not be a candidate for Jesse Helms' U.S. Senate seat because he "wasn't a politician" and couldn't turn himself into one. "The thought of an ultra-expensive, negative, divisive campaign just didn't sit well with my values," he said. However, on October 4, 2001, he said that he knew people who had died in the World Trade Center and the attacks "made clear to me that I wanted to spend all my time, all of it in public service, helping our nation during the challenging time." Now Bowles is facing that test. He's in a fractious Democratic primary and, if he makes it, will have an uphill race against Republican Elizabeth Dole, presumably one that will be both expensive and negative. Civic fervor alone isn't enough to get elected, he's discovered.
Finally in Washington, Grace Dodd is about to turn one year old. Her birthday was supposed to be September 11 but the attacks postponed her arrival for a few days. Her mother Jackie Clegg was on the way to the doctor when the plane crashed into the Pentagon. She got on the phone to her husband, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., to tell him to leave the Senate building and come home to safety. He finally did, along with about 20 members of his staff. Two days later, Grace was born into a new and more dangerous world. In October, she visited her father's office in the Senate the day before anthrax was found and her parents were terrified. "My first thoughts were on Grace and I hoped she'd be all right," said Sen. Dodd when he heard about the anthrax-tainted letter that arrived in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office. Grace is fine but the Capitol still has the feel of an armed camp.
For Rudy, Fred, Erskine and Grace, Sept. 11 changed the course of their lives in a more complex way than we understood a year ago. For them and all of us, the horror of that day and the anger and idealism that followed may be muted but will stay with us forever.