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Obama, McCain Unite at Ground Zero

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain will make a joint appearance at Ground Zero on Thursday, to commemorate the anniversary of Sept. 11.

“We will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity, to honor the memory of each and every American who died, and to grieve with the families and friends who lost loved ones,” said both presidential candidates in an unusual joint statement released in advance of the trip.

Even if the plan has mostly noble intentions, however, it is hard to imagine both campaigns completely putting politics “aside” on this one.

Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/picture-61-300x203.pngPresident Bush at Ground Zero (WhiteHouse.gove photo)

To the contrary, the very willingness of the GOP to share a 9/11 stage reflects a massive shift in terror politics.

In the last presidential election, Republicans bluntly ran as the party of 9/11. They put their convention in bright blue Manhattan for the sole purpose of making the 9/11 attacks “a primary theme of the convention.”

Sept. 11 was not a day for unity, in the GOP narrative; it was a day when people across the country were “glad” that “George Bush and Dick Cheney were in the White House,” as Lynne Cheney said in her 2004 convention speech.

Now, the Republican nominee presumably sees some gain in appearing with a Democrat on 9/11 — either to show another break with Bush-style politics, or perhaps in the hope that some of Obama’s calm, post-partisan sheen will wear off on him.

No matter what, Ground Zero remains a salient site for political symbolism and images. President George W. Bush’s bullhorn moment, indelibly burned in the public imagination of fans and critics alike, would not have worked anywhere else.

Michael Shaw, a psychologist who dissects political imagery at BagNewsNotes.com, tells TWI the images should be a net gain for Obama:

It puts Obama and McCain on equal footing. In the short run, given the RNC attacks on Obama as an empty suit, the joint appearance in such a solemn patriotic situation — both deriving benefit form the “America first”/ security context — helps level the playing field again.

While the headlines have focused on the nominees appearing together, Shaw predicts another participant could upend things:

The real visual key to the day will be the presence of Hillary Clinton. As N.Y. senator, and the most weighty and compelling female politician in the country, pictures of this emotionally charged and visually compelling event will allow Hillary to substantially return to the media sphere as not just the counterbalance to Palin, but the far more powerful and credible symbol between the two campaigns when it comes to gender politics.

Even putting politics aside, it is sure to be a striking day for politics.

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