n Thursday, President Obama made his first presidential visit to the most famous landmark of the Sept. 11 attacks — the site where the World Trade Centers once stood in downtown Manhattan. Marking the death of 9/11 ringleader Osama bin Laden, Obama silently laid a wreath at Ground Zero and met with family members of 9/11 victims. He rounded out his visit with lunch at a firehouse and a visit to a police station, both of which lost officers on 9/11. Here, five takeaways from Obama's much-dissected New York visit:
1. Obama finally de-politicized Ground Zero
By respectfully laying a wreath with appreciative firefighters and cops, Obama "managed to neutralize what has arguably been the most potent piece of Republican iconography of the last decade," says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. Bush and the Republicans used 9/11 to hammer Democrats for almost 10 years. Obama doesn't "own" Ground Zero now — "it's a site that certainly should belong to no party" — and finally, the GOP doesn't own it, either.
2. Actually, politics followed the president to Ground Zero
Obama's critics won't give up that easily, says Jay Bookman in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The president graciously invited Bush to accompany him, didn't give any speeches, and kept his visit as low-key as a president can. Nevertheless, The Washington Times still accused Obama of "opportunistic political theater," and right-wing bloggers still charged that he'd slighted Bush. "It's all rather sad."
3. Obama's low-key approach played well in New York
"Obama had planned a solemn pilgrimage to Ground Zero and came prepared to serve as consoler-in-chief," says the New York Daily News. "Instead, the president found himself at the receiving end of thanks from smiling and very relieved relatives and first responders." With no public remarks, Obama's visit "was a far cry from George W. Bush’s bullhorn address atop the rubble" almost 10 years ago, says Michael Scherer in TIME. "As high-profile as his visit is, Obama kept a light touch," says Rebecca Kaplan in The Atlantic, and New Yorkers appreciated it.
4. It was a great example of how to commemorate 9/11
A big 9/11 commemoration will be held on the attack's 10th anniversary, says Amy Davidson in The New Yorker. But Thursday's low-key rituals — families gathered together, "firefighters cooking lunch, Obama hanging a wreath on a stand of what looked like hastily nailed-together pieces of unpainted wood" — were "even better, in some ways, than the one being planned for September." The whole event felt "moderately natural," probably because "there wasn’t enough time to plan, or over-plan, and just enough time to calm down." Let's hope the upcoming event's planners take note.
5. But not everyone was impressed
Most 9/11 victims' families were honored to be invited to the wreath-laying ceremony or a reception that followed, says WPIX-TV's Monica Morales. But not all of them. John Vigiano, who lost both his sons on 9/11, found Obama's generic invitation "kinda lame," adding: "To me, [the event is] just going to be a photo op." Some of the family members who did meet with Obama were displeased. On Fox News, Debra Burlingame talked up her "slightly contentious" meeting with the president at the reception.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why is American internet so slow?
- Colorado’s new ‘drive high, get a DUI’ commercials are actually pretty clever
- 7 ways to be the most interesting person in any room
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- Ukraine's fraught relationship with Russia: A brief history
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- Don't worry: World War III will almost certainly never happen
Subscribe to the Week