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Political bipartisanship was short-lived after attacks
Lawmakers remembered why they sat on separate sides of aisle
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For a short period of time in the U.S., there were no Democrats and no Republicans.

In the days that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Washington was a town not of politicians but of fellow countrymen, recalls Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia's 9th District representative at the time.

"The events surrounding that date reminded us all that we were still all Americans," he said.

Acting briefly as compatriots, lawmakers in Washington worked together to fund a war on terror that originally began in Afghanistan.

They created the cabinet level Department of Homeland Security, the largest restructuring of American government in recent history, and passed legislation that expanded the ability of law enforcement agencies to gather information on private individuals believed to be threats to U.S. security.

For the first time in years, the eyes of American political leaders turned outward.

"The focus of American politics for about a decade had really turned inward with the end of the Cold War," said Randall Strahan, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta.

"I think 9/11 really jolted American politics back into the wider, international setting."

The acts of bipartisanship on those issues came out of fear and a need to find a new sense of security. Civic engagement surged.

"It was our country that was attacked and we (felt we) should respond as nearly as possible with a unanimous voice," Deal said. "I think that's what you saw for a period of time."

But those feelings didn't last.

While both parties closed ranks to deal with a security threat, it wasn't long after the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that discussions on foreign policy again became highly partisan, as such debates between the parties tend to do, Strahan said.

Lawmakers seemed to remember why they sat on separate sides of the aisle.

"In the longer term, there are just pretty fundamental differences between the central outlooks of the two parties on both how foreign policy ought to be conducted and how domestic policy should be conducted," Strahan said.

"I think the partisanship, of course, has become more intense," Deal said.

"The coming together after 9/11 was not a long-lasting sentiment, but it did prevail for a period of time and hopefully, it will not take those kind of events to remind us that we still are all Americans and that we have many things in common that we should try to do to protect our country and to move forward."

University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock isn't convinced the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 had a direct impact on today's political environment.

"I guess one draw some tenuous line connecting these events all together," Bullock said.

"It clearly is one of those events where people who were alive at the time will remember where they were, how they first heard about it and the emotions associated with it for the rest of their lives. But I guess I'm not convinced that it had a transformative effect on American public policy."

But Strahan says there's no doubt the political aftermath of the terrorist attacks 10 years ago will affect budgetary decisions and foreign policy for at least the next 10 to 20 years.

"There's going to be a long legacy in terms of the new security measures that are in place," said Strahan.

"We have a new cabinet level department ... and we have foreign policy commitments in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that are not going to unwind very quickly. I think there are going to be profound long-term consequences."

 

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