The behavior of the United States Government in the months following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 represents an American reflex towards Cold War policy. This shift is particularly apparent in the interface between the government and the populace. Politicians’ speeches are media events that encapsulate the state of the government-people interface and offer useful clues about the state of the American people and government.
On January 29th, 2002, President George W. Bush gave the first State of the Union address after 9/11. While the entire speech is too long to study in a blog post, the opening lines–the part intended to grab people’s attention, are rich with rhetoric resembling that of the Cold War. President Bush begins his speech by listing America’s challenges: an economic recession, a new War on Terror, and vague but “unprecedented” challenges to civilization. Abruptly after his pessimistic list, he simply states, “yet, the state of our Union has never been stronger.” How could such a claim follow from those challenges? The answer is that Americans have bought into a duality: there is a threat to the American way of life, but America is now stronger for it. This is analogous to the principal duality of the Cold War: paranoia about nuclear war somehow coexisted with a stronger and more “secure” family life. Even though in neither case America truly neutralized the threat, America was said to be stronger for the mere existence of the threat.
After his unfounded claim of America’s strength, President Bush goes on to describe America’s accomplishments and partnerships in the Middle East. He proclaims that America “saved a people from starvation” and “freed a country from brutal oppression.” These descriptions of American activities in the Middle East represent a renewed moral superiority of American foreign policy, a direct reversion to Cold War era attitude. The description of freeing Afghan mothers and daughters from being “captives” is a potent symbol of America exerting its values on a foreign country.
The 2002 State of the Union was more than just an address by the president; it is was a seismic shift in American policy and how America talks about that policy.
A link to President Bush’s speech is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wghP2JWloIo and the transcript is at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29644# .