Grassley op-ed: Lessons in Political Leadership from 9/11
Sep 10, 2020
By Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
This week, we observe the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We honor the memory of three thousand souls whose lives were stolen for the sole purpose of inflicting terror upon 300 million Americans. We grieve with their loved ones left behind and salute first responders who selflessly put their lives on the line to save others. Silver linings emerged from the ashes of the national tragedy: an indivisible thread of patriotism united Americans from coast to coast and political leaders united to keep Americans safe.
History can help keep us from repeating mistakes and making new ones. It teaches us how we can do and be better. Lessons from 9/11 can help us in 2020. I recall specific moments from that morning in September. Sunny blue skies welcomed people to work and greeted students to another day of the new school year. I can hear the urgent knocks on the door of my office in the Capitol. The brave men and women of the U.S. Capitol police were clearing the building. An airplane had just crashed into the Pentagon.
In the weeks and months after 9/11, the American people stood in solidarity, flags adorned porches, businesses and boulevards. Red, white and blue car magnets showed support for our troops. Post-9/11, partisanship took a back seat and policymaking took center stage for the public good. America had a common enemy to fight. As one nation, we circled the wagons to defend our own and protect our shores.
It’s disheartening to consider how the political tides have changed one generation since 9/11. Once again, we’re facing an enemy that shut down air travel, closed schools and disrupted our daily lives. This time, the enemy is a virus that’s killed nearly two hundred thousand Americans and disrupted one of the most robust economic expansions in U.S. history. But in this moment, we’re witnessing an erosion of social cohesion. Political division is sowing seeds of discord and mistrust. The social fabric in many communities is unraveling as peaceful protests for racial justice are sabotaged by criminal violence, arson and looting.
Too many are seeking political advantage. Too few are seizing this moment to do what’s right for the public interest and instead, acting for their own self-interest. We’re seeing less shared sacrifice; more us vs. them, pitting red against blue.
For 40 years in a row, I’ve held at least one meeting with my constituents in every county across Iowa. A massive wind storm on Aug. 10 added even more uncertainty to lives and livelihoods already turned upside down. Between the derecho, the drought and the pandemic, Iowans wonder what else 2020 has in store. Like most Americans, Iowans don’t have patience for partisanship, especially when their neighbor is out of a job, there’s no money to pay rent or put food on the table, no child care for their kids and no crop to harvest.
Voicing doubt about vaccine safety puts public health at risk. Spreading unfounded conspiracy theories about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service undermines confidence in our election. Blocking pandemic relief for unemployed workers to extract concessions on unrelated issues puts a partisan agenda before the people’s business. Filibustering the consideration of a policing reform bill and walking away from a bipartisan effort to cut drug prices are political calculations, not profiles in courage.
We can do better. Let’s keep in mind America’s promise and what got us through 9/11. In this moment in history, let’s ascend to the better angels of our nature and work together to reclaim health, peace and prosperity for all Americans. Grinding partisan axes ignores a political axiom that has stood the test of time. Good policy is good politics.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley represents Iowa and serves as the Senate president pro tempore.