Analyzing the President's Sept. 11 Speech President Bush spoke to the nation Monday night on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, defending his administration's pursuit of terrorism suspects.
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Analyzing the President's Sept. 11 Speech

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Analyzing the President's Sept. 11 Speech

Analyzing the President's Sept. 11 Speech

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In his speech to the nation last night on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush again defended his administration's policies in the war on terrorism.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: America did not ask for this war. And every American wishes it were over. So do I. But the war's not over and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious.

CHADWICK: That's from the president's speech last night.

We're joined now from Washington by John Dickerson. He is chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate. John, how about the speech last night? Something new there for you?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief political correspondent, Slate): Not terribly new. It's kind of the culmination of a two-week effort from this administration to frame the war on terror and to talk about Iraq in the context of the war on terror. So it was really kind of more of the same, although obviously in this very highly charged moment.

CHADWICK: When the White House asked for broadcast time on Friday, Tony Snow, the president's spokesman, specifically said this is not going to be a political speech, but what kind of - well, were there political overtones for you last night?

Mr. DICKERSON: Of course there were. I mean, again, this is at the end of a two-week stretch of speeches. It's a political moment and the president used it as such to make the case, the political case to the country both to build support for his programs and policies, but also to help try to put some wind at the back of Republican candidates.

CHADWICK: All right. Here's another moment from the speech. And I certainly do hear politics in this. Let's listen.

President BUSH: Winning this war will require the determined efforts of a unified country. And we must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us.

CHADWICK: John, the president's saying his political opponents, you have to set aside your differences and help defeat terrorism. Politically speaking, I think that's probably a pretty good message for Mr. Bush.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's right. He's creating leverage. He's using the moment of 9/11 and the remembrances of it to put pressure on Democrats or his critics in general and to argue basically that if you want to act in the spirit of 9/11 and in that togetherness we all saw after the attacks, you'll essentially agree with me.

CHADWICK: Senator Kennedy yesterday afternoon and again this morning is saying on behalf of Democrats all, I suppose, this was an intensely political speech, saying that the president, actually in the senator's words, should be ashamed of himself for attempting to politicize 9/11. Maybe the Democrats are making a little more of this than they should?

Mr. DICKERSON: Oh, of course they are. And Senator Kennedy is politicizing the moment just as the president did. It's this bit of a silly game we're in here with 9/11.

In my view, anything outside of a church service is perfectly fair game, and it gets a little silly when both sides accuse the other of trying to politicize the moment. It is a political event when people fly planes into a building and how we react is probably the most important issue on the agenda. And if politicians can't talk about it like adults, then we should get new politicians.

CHADWICK: Political events, there are primaries today. Of particular interest, the state of Rhode Island, where Senator Lincoln Chafee is running for re-nomination in his party and he has a strong challenge from the right.

Mr. DICKERSON: This is an extraordinary race to watch. It's sort of the mirror image of the race we watched in Connecticut where Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, was challenged within his own party by Ned Lamont and the Democratic Party didn't quite know what to do with this race.

Well, the Republicans know what to do and they're supporting Chafee, even though Chafee has bucked this president and the party several times. And they're not just supporting Chafee. They are tearing the face off his opponent, running negative ads, really beating him up. Because they believe that if Chafee's opponent, Steve Laffey wins in this primary, he'll lose in the general election.

CHADWICK: Even though Mr. Laffey would perhaps fit more comfortably in the Republican Party than Mr. Chafee, certainly on the conservative side of the Republican Party.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's right. Laffey is being supported by lots of conservatives as the true Republican in the race, but the Republicans in Washington don't care about ideological purity in this case. They want a win because they're worried about losing their majority in the Senate.

CHADWICK: How close is that?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, it's hard to say. There're a lot of races that are tightening, and we see the Virginia race tightening. We see the Tennessee race very, very tight. And these were races where a couple of months ago, the prognosticators thought they were safe Republican seats. The Democrats still have a tough climb to win the Senate, but it appears each day that it's getting a little bit easier.

CHADWICK: John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate, with us again. John, thank you so much.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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