In 2008, the country was in a dark place and the terrorist was still in hiding
The last time President Obama visited Ground Zero it was the fall of 2008, the seventh anniversary of the attacks, and the national mood was different in every possible way from what it is today. He and John McCain were engaged in a nasty campaign against each other and Ground Zero served as a brief, superficial, respite from the vitriol. The two spent five minutes together laying wreathes. The site was still an empty, 16-acre hole thanks to ugly battles between the site's leaseholder and landowner over who owed who more money. The U.S. economy was days on the verge of collapse.
To understand why people filled the streets to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden this week, it's worth taking a look at Obama's first visit to Ground Zero. People have been looking for something to celebrate ever since.
I was at the site that day for anniversary ceremonies. Fewer people turned out than in past years, despite Obama and McCain's impending arrival (rumors were actually swirling that the two decided not to come). The plaza designated for the public was across the street from the square closed-off for victims' families. In one corner, a ring of people penned their names upon memorial canvases laid out on the ground. On the other side, a youth Mennonite choir sang solemn hymns. But the middle of the square was nearly empty save for one woman holding a large sign. It read, "Where is Osama Bin Laden?"