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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama participate in a wreath laying ceremony honoring those who lost their lives and to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks against the United States, at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Sunday, September 11, 2011.

Elections 2012: A Day of Service and the Swagger of National Security

Mark Trahant
9/11/12

Today is September 11. It’s a workday for most people, but also a day of national memory. President Barack Obama says the best way to honor the lives lost is a day of public service.

“Eleven years later, that’s the legacy of 9/11 – the ability to say with confidence that no adversary and no act of terrorism can change who we are,” the president said in his weekly address. “We are Americans, and we will protect and preserve this country we love. On this solemn anniversary, let’s remember those we lost, let us reaffirm the values they stood for, and let us keep moving forward as one nation and one people.”

The White House website includes an archive of photo essays of previous service days by the president and vice president and their families. There’s also a link to serve.gov, a site for getting started on service projects. That website says there are service projects involving Native American communities across the country, involving more than 130 tribes. National service volunteers are involved with projects ranging from foster grandparents on the Navajo Nation to AmeriCorps volunteers at tribal schools.

Of course this September 11 is in the middle of an election season.

Four years ago candidates Obama and John McCain walked side by side down the ramp into the pit where the World Trade Center had stood. Later the two met again at an event at Columbia University. Time magazine put it this way: “... the presidential campaign shifted from overdrive to a measured idle on the anniversary of 9/11, as John McCain and Barack Obama answered questions separately about what they would do to bolster volunteerism and service among Americans.”

Today, of course, is different. There will be no joint appearance with Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. (However both campaigns have pulled their TV advertising for the day.)

There are a couple of important, political reasons why the two men won’t share the stage. First: The Democrats have an advantage on national security issues. This week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll, for example, shows the president with an 11 point lead on national security issues over Romney. Americans were satisfied with the end of the Iraq war and the prospect of an end in Afghanistan. And, second, the 9/11 anniversary is yet another reminder of the raid on Pakistan soil.

“Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden,” Romney said during his acceptance speech in Tampa. “But on another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat.”

But this is a hard sell for Romney. At the Democratic National Convention he was mocked by John Kerry (who mocked himself, and his campaign for president, while mocking Romney). “Mr. Romney,” he said, “here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself! President Mitt Romney" – three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer. For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission – it was a blooper reel.”

How big an advantage has national security become for the Democrats? A Foreign Policy magazine headline sums it up this way: “Dems haven’t had this much national-security swagger since LBJ.”

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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