BOSTON—John Kerry’s words were inadequate Saturday morning, but whose wouldn’t be? Kerry spoke during a commemoration of the third anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and he couldn’t help but be overshadowed by the simple eloquence of the relatives of 9/11 victims in attendance. “This is not about politics,” Kerry says often on the stump. He didn’t say it today, but for once, the statement would have actually been true.
Flight 11 and Flight 197, the planes that struck the World Trade Center, took off from Boston’s Logan Airport. The Massachusetts 9/11 Fund honored the dead with a brief ceremony at the Boston Opera House. A speaker read from an e-mail written by a girl who was 7 years old when her father died; she said she missed hearing his laugh in their house. The daughter of another woman spoke of how her mother’s wedding ring was found in the rubble, months after the tragedy, on her mom’s birthday. A son talked of how he relives the murder of his father every day, on TV news and in campaign ads.
There were brief mentions, like that one, of politics, but they came from the relatives, not from Kerry. Sonia Puopolo, the daughter who held aloft her mother’s wedding ring during the ceremony, said she spoke for her mother by “asking and praying for a president, a president named John Kerry, to bring peace to a terribly troubled world.” Others were more oblique. One of two 9/11 widows who are raising money to help widows in Afghanistan—to “help widows who have been affected by war and terrorism in other parts of the world” and to try to provide them with the financial and emotional support that 9/11 families have received—said in videotaped remarks, “We strongly believe that the only way to fight terrorism is through education.” Franklin Ross, the son who spoke, was the only one who mentioned the attackers, but even he expressed sympathy for their loved ones. “The people who did this will pay, and so will their families, and I feel sorry for that,” he said.
Kerry paid tribute to the victims and the heroes and the survivors and the families, but he did not draw attention to the criticisms made by some of the speakers before him. The day before had been different. At a rally on Friday in Allentown, Pa., Kerry said that he met with some 9/11 widows beforehand. “And they looked at me, and every single of them said, our husbands didn’t die on Sept. 11 because of what happened with Iraq. [It was] what happened with al-Qaida, with Osama Bin Laden, in Afghanistan,” he said. “And what George W. Bush has done is try to scare Americans, and make you believe that one is the other, and the other is the same.”
There is a place for the candidates to talk about Sept. 11 in this election. For most Americans, the race is about nothing except what happened on one day three years ago and how the Bush administration responded. Just not today.