Tomorrow, President Obama will go to Ground Zero to meet with relatives of those who died on Sept. 11, to perhaps bring some closure now that the man behind the attacks is dead. Obama invited President George W. Bush to join him, but Bush has reportedly declined .
I doubt this has anything to do with Bush being resentful that Obama caught the man who eluded Bush, or out of petty anger that Obama didn’t name-check him Sunday night during the big announcement. Bush has stayed largely out of the spotlight since leaving office, and that’s the reason, according to his spokesman, that he’s staying away now.
I wish he would reconsider. Sunday night, as news of Bin Liden’s demise broke, the unity that we saw among Americans was almost as uplifting as the news itself. On Facebook and Twitter and in the voices of the people being interviewed on TV, you could feel the national mood lighten. I was surprised-and then ashamed of my surprise-to see some of my more liberal friends and acquaintances be so gung-ho about the raid that killed Bin Laden. Say what you want about the celebrations outside the White House or in New York, at least they weren’t political rallies guaranteed to piss off half the country.
The divisiveness of the latter Bush years has not eased even well into the Obama presidency. (Blame whoever you will; I’m not going to add to the divide by doing so.) But here we have an opportunity to extend this moment where most of us are in agreement, and to let it spread. When Seth Meyers was mildly roasting President Obama during the White House Correspondents Dinner, he teased Obama by comparing him to 2008 Obama: “Was he a little too idealistic? Maybe.” And Obama smiled and nodded, with a hint of ruefulness. President Obama’s decision to keep Gitmo open, and his bold move to go after Bin Laden, show that being president is a nearly impossible job that requires one to make very difficult, very unpleasant decisions. He doesn’t have to come out and say anything explicit to show his supporters that maybe, just maybe, President Bush wasn’t the power-hungry, evil tyrant that some remember.
Now, if former President Bush could go to Ground Zero and stand next to Obama, it could have a similar affect on those who dislike our current president. It could remind us that we might fight about health care and debt ceilings and taxes, but, at the end of the day, we’re all Americans. It’s sad to think that it takes someone like Osama Bin Laden, whether in the case of his causing death and destruction or in the case of his own death, to bring us together. But this is an opportunity we’ve been presented, and it’s a shame not to make the most of it.