After Bin Laden's Death, Obama Visits Ground Zero The president is in New York City on Thursday, laying a wreath at the World Trade Center site and meeting with first responders and families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
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After Bin Laden's Death, Obama Visits N.Y.

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After Bin Laden's Death, Obama Visits N.Y.

After Bin Laden's Death, Obama Visits N.Y.

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Having given that interview to "60 Minutes," the president travels to New York City today.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: One of the most powerful moments of President Bush's eight years in office took place on the ground where President Obama will stand today. Three days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush stood amid the rubble of the World Trade Center with his arm over an emergency rescue worker's shoulder. He took a bullhorn and began speaking off the cuff.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people...

(Soundbite of cheering)

President BUSH: ...and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SHAPIRO: Now the decade-long manhunt is over, and President Obama comes to Ground Zero to symbolically close this chapter. It's a very different moment in America, and today's event will have a very different tone. President Obama does not plan to make any public comments. White House spokesman Jay Carney explains the reasoning to reporters.

Mr. JAY CARNEY (White House Press Secretary): He wants to lay a wreath to honor the victims, to honor the first responders who so courageously rushed to the scene and in many cases gave their own lives to try to save others, to honor the spirit of unity in America that we all felt in the wake of that terrible attack. I think the power of that requires no words.

SHAPIRO: The president will meet in private with first responders and relatives of those who died on 9/11.

Jeff Shesol was a speechwriter for President Clinton, and he believes this week could mark a fundamental shift in the way Americans perceive Mr. Obama.

Mr. JEFF SHESOL (Former Presidential Speechwriter): I think it's very hard after this moment to suggest that President Obama doesn't have the guts to make tough calls, to make bold and risky calls, to make decisions that could lead to failure, that could lead to loss of life, and then to go ahead because he knows it to be the right thing to do.

SHAPIRO: Gutsy, tough, and bold are not words people have often applied to President Obama. He's more often stereotyped as deliberative, professorial, and aloof. Even many Republicans say this week recasts President Obama as a more decisive leader.

Trey Grayson directs the Harvard Institute of Politics.

Mr. TREY GRAYSON (Harvard Institute of Politics): It's certainly a big moment and it will certainly play a role in people's perception, which will therefore play a role in his reelection.

SHAPIRO: This may be especially true for young voters. Today's college students grew up with the image of bin Laden as an almost mythological villain.

Mr. GRAYSON: For the kids who I see in college, it's a moment that tied all of their generation together. We had hundreds of kids run up to Harvard Yard and they put a flag around John Harvards statue and started chanting. And these are defining moments for them, and you saw the celebration.

SHAPIRO: But the parents of those kids are still concerned about high gas prices, a bad economy, and the shortage of jobs.

That makes Republican strategist Glen Bolger think the death of bin Laden may ultimately be a side note to the Obama presidency.

Mr. GLEN BOLGER (Republican Strategist): If things get better for the country, this is just going to be just one more thing people think about. If things don't get better for the country, then people are going to go back and say, look, yeah, he did that well but what has he done about jobs, what has he done about the debt, what has he done about spending?

SHAPIRO: The White House is aware of that risk, which may be one reason President Obama flies to Indianapolis tomorrow for an event about the economy. After that, he'll address troops at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

Democratic pollster Jeff Garin agrees that the death of bin Laden does not fix the economy or guarantee that President Obama's poll numbers will stay high. But he says today's appearance at Ground Zero will burnish a moment in the public's mind.

Mr. JEFF GARIN (Democratic Pollster): First impressions are powerful and in some respects, even after two years this is a first impression of President Obama in this kind of situation.

SHAPIRO: The administration hopes it is an impression that will last.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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