Solemn anniversaries present political opportunities

August 29 ... September 11...

Anniversaries of two overwhelming disasters – one natural, one man-made.

The media love big commemorations, a chance to reprocess some dramatic archive tape. Politicians love the chance to reprocess some shaky reputations.

President Bush, remembered unfavorably for his inspection of flooded New Orleans from Air Force One, has spent two days on the Gulf Coast, amid tolling bells. He was trying to refurbish a reputation blighted by the slowness of the federal government in delivering on promises of $110 billion for reconstruction.

"One year doesn't mean that we will forget," Mr. Bush said, over fried shrimp and gumbo in Biloxi, Miss. But, his "heck of a job" appellation for then-FEMA Director Michael Brown resounds still along the levees. So does the president's promise to deal with abject poverty in the inner city of New Orleans.

Opinion polls indicate that Bush's standing, now at a low ebb, is not likely to rebound much in two days.

Sept. 11, five years later, is a different story. The president at first enjoyed almost universal support, close to reverence, as he rallied a nation stricken by the devastation caused by the hijacked planes.

But then the administration turned 9/11 into a tool to justify the totally unconnected invasion of Iraq. Late – very late – the administration began to acknowledge that Saddam Hussein had no known link to Osama bin Laden and that the 9/11 attacks had no known connection with Iraq.

So Aug. 29, one year later, and Sept. 11, five years later, are observed as national days of remembrance. But they are also days of political opportunity.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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