“A second plane hit the second tower: America is under attack.”
These words that shattered the seemingly untouchable nature of the United States in a single moment were spoken by Chief of Staff Andrew Card to President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001.
Card, who visited the University on Wednesday, delivered both an encouraging and heart-wrenching speech in the Foy Hall Auditorium.
Card noted the only thing that was seemingly amiss that September morning was a misspelled word on a bulletin board in the small Sarasota, Florida classroom.
“The day dawned a beautiful day,” Card said during his talk.
The president woke up that morning to a jogging date with a reporter who was a former cross country athlete, and Bush had boasted his “signature strut” after beating the reporter in a race on the golf course.
“I remember literally telling the president, ‘It should be an easy day,’”Card recounted. “Those were the words. ‘It should be an easy day.’”
Card said on the way to the elementary school there were mutters of a plane crash in New York, but no one knew the details or the implications the crash would have on the course of history in the United States; on the thousands of victims it would claim, on the millions of people who would have their sense of security threatened — their sense of national unity strengthened.
Card said every Chief of Staff faces the question: “Does the President need to know?” in this case, Card said, Bush needed to know. That is what caused him to step into the classroom on that Tuesday morning.
Card delved into an elaborate description of the details of the day — he spent more than half an hour in Foy Hall recounting every scene and every emotional moment of the fateful day that forever changed the nation.
He spoke of the classroom, the reactions of all who were present — from the principal to the members of the press to the CIA to the president himself — who contemplatively nodded his head in remembrance of his duty, his responsibility to a country under attack.
The Harbert College of Business invited Card to share his experiences with the Auburn family, and earlier in the day, the college coordinated visits in which he spoke to several classes about the qualities of leadership and the importance and effectiveness of presidential duty amid national tragedy.
Card began his political career as an elected official in Holbrook, Massachusetts, and then as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975-1983. He served as a Minority Whip from 1977–1983. Card ran for governor in 1982 but lost in the primary.
“I am proudly a politician,” Card said. “Not many people would use the word ‘proudly’ and ‘politician’ in the same sentence. … I grew up in a home where politics was not a dirty word. In fact, it was a noble word.”
He spoke of his gratitude for his Holbrook, Massachusetts, community and how they stood by his side through the thick and the thin of politics.
Shortly after he lost the gubernatorial election, he received a phone call from James Baker III, whom he called “the personification of noble public servant and a great leader.” Baker asked Card if he would like to come work for newly elected President Ronald Reagan in D.C.
“I was passionate about Congress, and boy did I want to go to that White House,” Card told Auburn University faculty, staff and students.
That opportunity opened many doors for Card, who went on to serve as the Reagan Administration’s Deputy Assistant to the President and the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. He then served as H. W. Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff as a cabinet member and as the 11th Secretary of Transportation. Card also held many major roles in management, specifically in the automotive industry.
“I was passionate about participating in the political process; I was passionate about the leadership that I saw,” he shared with the audience. “I wanted people to feel proud about public service — I was looking for good leadership, and it showed up.”
Card accepted the position of Chief of Staff for George W. Bush in 2001 and served until 2006, making him the second longest tenured chief of staff in United States history.
The job of a chief of staff can be both demanding and exhausting. Card said that he continually kept an optimism about him and his job, intentionally telling the president each morning that the day would be a great day.
When asked how he kept that optimism alive even during some of the hardest times that the nation has faced, Card told The Plainsman, “I am an Easter person. I am risen, and I am excited. I wake up every day thinking of Philippians 4:8. … That’s how I wake up. The glass is not only half full — it is filling up,” he said.
He described the job of greeting the president each day as a great privilege. “You have to believe that you are doing the right thing,” he said.
Card described Bush as a pleasure to work with. According to Card, Bush was the only President who was trained with a master’s in business administration, who worked a tight deadline and communicated effectively.
Card admired the president’s decision-making routine.
“He would talk to his wife, pray, sleep on it, wake up and pray again, and then come to work,” Card said.
He emphasized that presidents should never make an easy decision — the calm and calculated response to the Sept. 11 attacks that showed solidarity of the nation was one of the most important responses in America’s history.
There were small anecdotes in his speech that were infused with a certain kind of humor that broke the somber atmosphere pervading the room when he recounted those events of September 2001.
He relayed the details of his concession speech after coming in third place in the gubernatorial election in 1982. He was in the process of delivering his speech and expressing his gratitude for coming in third, when his son tugged on his pants leg and, loud enough for all to hear, exclaimed, “But dad, you came in last place.”
He spoke of the night he spent with the Bush family before the election, describing the secret service as ushering him into the Bush’s Texas home when they were out to dinner. He sat alone in the living room, and then feasted on late-night peanut butter and banana sandwiches with the family, before turning into bed at 1 a.m. The next morning, the couple invited him to drink coffee and watch the news with them, greeting him in “silly-looking” slippers and bathrobes.
Card grew up in a politically minded family. He described his grandmother as a “militant suffragette,” who fought for the right to vote in Holbrook, Massachusetts. County voting records testify to the fact that she was the first woman to register to vote. She later ran for and was elected to the school committee.
Card echoed the principles that his grandmother instilled in him as he said, “The most important part of our constitution is the first word: We. … We all have to recognize that the government is ours and accept the invitation to be involved.”
Card received his invitation early on in life as his family nurtured within him a love and passion for politics. Each night before dinner, every person at the table had to share something from that day’s newspaper.
“In my high school yearbook,” Card said, “I said that I wanted to be an engineer and a politician.”
Card joked that he did not know at first that was an oxymoron.
He spent several years as an industrial engineer, working on projects such as the old New England Patriots Stadium, Yankee Stadium and the stadium where the Buffalo Bills still play.
The three components of the chief of staff’s job, according to Roger Porter, an expert on White House organization and an asset to many presidents, are first, the care and feeding of the president; second, policy formulation and third, communication of policy implementation, which Card likened to marketing and selling — skills taught in the Harbert College of Business.
“I am proud to be here at Auburn, and I am also grateful for the chance to share with you something that I feel is very important,” Card told the audience.
Card emphasized the importance of political participation from all members of a society.
“So many gave life and limb. … And we don’t vote — we don’t think the ‘we’ is us,” he said. “That is leadership, that is the role of a democracy. … Please acknowledge that you are part of the ‘we.’”
Card has been involved in many critical moments of the Bush administration, running the Philadelphia Republican National Convention, managing H. W.’s transition from the presidency and breaking the news to Bush in that small classroom in 2001.
Card spent time with the Bush family the night before the election, and he noted that the chief of staff position is not one that is applied for — it is one that is given.
“My grandmother was right,” Card said.
Card said that the remarkable thing about the Constitution is that it gives us obligations but only once we accept the invitation.
He encouraged students and community members alike to accept their own invitations — to get involved, to vote, to educate and to be an active part of the democracy in America.
He said that people can debate without arguing, and emphasized respectfulness for differing views. Card finds peace in politics, and said that there is much to be agreed upon even in a polarized climate such as today’s.
“There is more common ground in America today than we acknowledge,” he said.
He cited respectful dialogue and accepted dialogue as the solution to much of this polarization in the United States. “Democracy does not find perfection in the way that we find perfection — democracy finds perfection by compromise.”
With a light in his eyes, Card told The Plainsman that the Bush family knew how to love.
“They had an unbelievable respect for civility,” Card said. “They are very inclusive in the political process — they may ideologically disagree with you, but they don’t turn people out.”
He has been married to Rev. Kathleene Card for the last 51 years. They met in the fifth grade and graduated high school together. She served as a minister for Trinity United Methodist Church at the time of the attacks and opened the doors for the community to come and pray. They also held childcare for CIA agents, whose operations were based down the street from the church.
The nation’s unified reaction to the tragedy — the notion that we were a nation who was strong and who would not be overtaken by terror or by threat — showed the rest of the globe that the United States was serious in its dedication to family and to country.
Card noted that every single person has a role to play in that continued mission, and he echoed once again that each member of the Auburn Family is a part of that larger “We.”
Kailey Beth Smith | Community Reporter