As his approval numbers plummet, the president places another emergency call to the darkest day on our calendar.

Like many others who witnessed the attacks four years ago (I watched the Pentagon burn from my DC apartment), the experience left me particularly susceptible to being unnerved by loud noises. I thought I had long gotten over my minibout of post-traumatic stress disorder, but the other night, at the fashionable Paris bistro La Coupole, there was an explosion of breaking dishes just a few feet from my table. As my French date chattered on obliviously, my brain began to numb, the booth closed in around me, and I fought an overwhelming urge to run outside. But being an intrepid traveler on a hot date, I manfully chose to grin and bear it. Within seconds I had broken into a torrent of tears.

At least George Bush’s summer vacation hasn’t been much better.

The president’s record-breaking five-week sabbatical (are we sure he isn’t French?) has been rudely interrupted by the specter of war and terror in the form of a single mourning mother, Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan’s son Casey, 24, was killed last year in Iraq. Mama bear is pissed, blames Bush for her cub’s death, and is taking no prisoners.

After the president refused to meet Sheehan for a tete-a-tete, she decided to camp out for weeks outside his Texas ranch, spurring an ongoing media firestorm and an international outpouring of support. Whenever the president has faced political difficulties in the past he has found it useful to play the September 11 card; the 2004 Republican convention in New York City, at which the attacks were invoked endlessly, was perhaps the most blatant and effective example of this. But the public is finally finding the president-who-cried-Osama act stale. During Bush’s “the war must go on” speech this past June at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, the only “spontaneous” applause Bush received from the exclusively military audience came when a White House staffer prompted it. According to the Associated Press his Iraq approval ratings, hovering in the mid to low 40s all year, have now sunk to an all-time low of 38 percent.

Nevertheless, when Bush finally reacted to the public relations disaster caused by Sheehan he invoked—oh, take a guess—September 11. “Our work in Iraq is a vital part of the war on terror we’re waging around the world,” Bush said last Saturday in his weekly radio address. “This was when terror arrived on our shores on September 11, 2001.” Bush is also now touring the nation with a series of speeches linking 9/11 to the war in Iraq.

Will the tactic work again? Bush is counting on it. As Iraq quickly moves from pesky quagmire to full-blown disaster (GOP senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska told ABC’s This Week that Iraq was looking more and more like Vietnam), the Bushies are pulling out all the stops. Minister of Peace Donald Rumsfeld has just announced a Freedom Walk to remember the dead, honor our troops, and, oh yeah, save Bush’s increasingly unpopular ass. It includes a march from the Pentagon to the National Mall, followed by a concert. And on what day is this government-sponsored wargasm set to take place? September 11, of course. The featured performer at the concert will be pro-Bush country singer Clint Black, who, presumably, will sing his hit “I Raq and Roll” (get it?), which includes such memorable lyrics as:

Now you can come along
Or you can stay behind
Or you can get out of the way.
But our troops take out the garbage
For the good old USA.