On the six-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy (Monday, March 11), U.S. Sen. and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton reflected on that indelible day and its aftermath. Saying that pre-Sept. 11 priorities are outdated, the senator called for an end to Bush administration tax cuts and an expansion of social and foreign aid programs.
Clinton, speaking in Memorial Hall’s Sanders Theatre, told of her experiences on and after Sept. 11, from attending a cancelled hearing with first lady Laura Bush, to her visit to the World Trade Center site the next day.
Though she had monitored the tragedy on television like much of the country, Clinton said she was unprepared for the extent of the damage she saw firsthand from a helicopter over the site and later on the ground.
“Nothing that I had thought, been told, or seen on television or read in the morning papers prepared me for what I saw that afternoon,” Clinton said. She described getting as close as possible, but seeing only a gray wall of soot. “It truly was like peering through the gates of Hell.”
Clinton’s visit was hosted by the Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics. She spoke to an enthusiastic crowd that snapped up all available tickets within hours and that gave her standing ovations both before and after her talk.
Clinton spoke of the rescue workers on Sept. 11 emerging from the cloud of soot, exhausted and dragging their equipment. She said the scene illustrated both the best and worst traits of human nature as rescuers risked their own lives to save people trapped in the horrific damage wrought by the terrorists.
Clinton said she supports the military action, both abroad, aimed at rooting out terrorists, and at home, aimed at improving security. But she added that military priority must be joined by a humanitarian one and the United States must take a lead role in helping the Afghans back to their feet and ensuring security there lest they fall back under the sway of feuding warlords.
Other policies of the Bush Administration, however, did not fare so well under Clinton’s gaze. She assailed the administration’s tax cuts, calling them a “turn away from fiscal responsibility.”
“I think it’s a … mistake to run up debt and deficits again,” Clinton said. “It doesn’t make any sense to pay for the war, do more at home, and pay for tax cuts.”
Clinton went on to criticize the administration’s energy policy, calling it “the energy policy of the past” and said the United States should focus on self-sufficiency and look for environmentally friendly energy sources. With a host of ecological problems facing us, the environment, she said, has to become a priority for the entire country.
“As we look to the future we must all become environmentalists,” Clinton said. “This is no longer a movement, this has to become a way of life.”
Clinton said one thing Sept. 11 left us is a greater sense of the responsibility we have living in a democracy. She closed her talk by urging the audience to get involved, by working on a campaign, advocating things they believe in — or just voting.
“It’s critical for all of you to care about and get involved in the political process,” Clinton said. “However you choose to participate, I can only urge, with all my heart, that you do.”