No wonder my mother was a little breathless on the telephone. "Listen to this," she said, preparing me for a snippet from a tome by the popular, late and liberal historian William Manchester. It describes Franklin D. Roosevelt's initial reaction to news of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that devastated the American fleet, killing 2,403 soldiers, sailors and civilians.
After calling the secretary of state, Manchester writes, "the President of the United States did nothing for 18 minutes."
Eighteen minutes. Why, that's 11, maybe 12 minutes more than George W. Bush paused during a visit to a Florida elementary school before taking action on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Truth be told, I've withheld this historical mini-scoop for a while, thinking "Agitprop 9/11," or whatever, which first ginned up the notion that President Bush fiddled around while the Twin Towers burned, wasn't worth spilling ink over. But now that the Kerry presidential campaign is Michael-Moore-ishly aping the outrage over the Lost Minutes, the fact of FDR's post-Pearl Harbor lull gains currency.
"John Kerry is not the type who will sit and read 'My Pet Goat' to a group of second-graders while America is under attack," Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter declared last week, by all accounts with a straight face. Ms. Cutter, Ted Kennedy's former press secretary, was referring to the kiddie book Mr. Bush continued reading with schoolchildren for several minutes after learning that the second tower of the World Trade Center had been attacked.
Them may be fightin' words in a "more sensitive" war on terror, but I'm guessing that Thomas E. Dewey, FDR's fourth and final presidential opponent, never even thought to hit Roosevelt for 18 minutes of inaction at the onset of World War II. Let's just say that John Kerry is no Tom Dewey. "Had I been reading to children and had my top aide whisper in my ear that America is under attack," Mr. Kerry intoned this month, "I would have told those kids very nicely and politely that the president of the United States has something that he needed to attend to. And I would have attended to it."