Sunday, September 4th 2011, 4:00 AM
Imagine if at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln was told he could not give a speech, because to do so would be too "political." Imagine if instead, he was handed a poem to read. America would be without the Gettysburg Address, which fundamentally defined who we are as a nation.
Yet at Ground Zero, on this 10th anniversary of the attacks upon America, as on the last nine occasions, no politician -- no governor, no mayor and not even our sitting President, Barack Obama -- will step forward to give a speech. Instead, at Mayor Bloomberg's wrongheaded direction, they must recite some poem or some past speech -- by another politician.
It's an abdication of responsibility, one that applies as well to Obama, who's repeatedly asserted the power of rhetoric to help define our times and unite the nation.
Rather than shrinking from history, he should insist upon rising to meet the moment. Bloomberg should welcome him, not silence him. Obama is our leader; he speaks for the nation. As other Presidents have done in their time, it is his burden to say something. It should be honest and real. He should risk offending some people in an attempt to give texture and meaning to the memory of that terrible day.
Otherwise, we will be left with precisely what ceremonies of the past nine years have given us: an empty, antiseptic aftertaste, remarkable only for its failure to offer the American people anything memorable.
This sad charade began on the very first anniversary, when we witnessed the bizarre scene of then Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg doing karaoke versions of statesmen. Pataki recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; Bloomberg read excerpts from FDR's "Four Freedoms" address of Jan. 6, 1941. (That, by the way, was a very political speech attacking American isolationism and rallying the nation to prepare for war.
The speeches didn't fit -- but they were safe. The politicians took no risks. That, to them, is what constituted success.
What a sad commentary on our times, and on the quality of our leaders. Does not the anniversary of 9/11 -- especially the tenth -- demand more? The proper recognition of a speech? Don't the mayor, governor and certainly the President understand the significance of this day? How did it become proper etiquette for leaders to remain silent at such times? Are not our elected representatives, at times of great crisis, supposed to rise to the occasion and define for us the situation at hand; explain its significance and magnitude and provide for us a path to follow?