Terrorism and the threat of an attack has been a Republican strong point with the voter since 9/11. I’m not sure why. The Bush Administration has dropped the ball in so many areas of Homeland Security that if the Democrats had any brains, they would attack Bush not for making terrorism a political issue but for the spectacular failures of his administration on issues such as border and port security, airport screening procedures, and improving the security around soft targets like chemical and electric plants. (Talking about the fact that the Department of Homeland Security itself is a bureaucratic mess and a disaster could take up a whole other article.)
But they cannot bring these issues up because they don’t believe there is a War on Terror – or at least not in the sense that we have anything really to worry about. The great conundrum for Democrats when dealing with the terror issue is that since the 2004 campaign they have been screaming bloody murder every time the issue of terrorism has been raised by a Republican candidate. They call it “playing the politics of fear” and denounce any effort to talk about the threats facing us.
But people want to know what Obama and Clinton are going to do to keep us safe. Hence the conundrum; Democrats must talk about the threats facing us but leave themselves wide open to charges that they too are playing the politics of fear when doing so.
It is a problem of their own making made obvious by the latest ad from Hillary Clinton that shows kids in bed asleep at 3:00 AM and a telephone ringing. A voice over asks who they want answering that phone in the White House – presumably when some crisis is confronting the country. The last scene showing Hillary picking up a phone in a darkened room is quite effective. (Ed Morrissey has the video.)
Clinton is really hearing it from the Obama camp and the blogs:
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., pushed back hard against the new ad, which ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos described as “the nuclear option” on Friday’s “Good Morning America”.
Addressing a group of veterans at an American Legion post in Houston, Obama said: “We’ve seen these ads before. They’re the kind that play on peoples’ fears to scare up votes.”
The tone of the ad—which echoes the infamous Daisy Ad from the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater presidential race and the red phone ad former Vice President Walter Mondale ran against Gary Hart in their ‘84 race for the Democratic nomination—indicates that the Clinton campaign is pulling out the all the stops leading into the Ohio and Texas primaries.
Is it inevitable now that any candidate – Republican or Democrat – who wants to speak frankly to the American people about the real threats we face will be tarred with the charge that they are trying to scare people to get votes?
I see nothing inherently wrong with Hillary trying to highlight the exceptional inexperience of her opponent on national security matters. I hope McCain goes after Obama in a similar manner early and often. But the question remains; are we ever going to be able to talk about terrorism?
Not as long as an advantage accrues to one side or the other when running for office. The idea that a candidate will use the politics of fear in order to win has a long, dishonorable tradition in American politics. The Democrats have successfully demagogued social security for 50 years, scaring senior citizens into thinking that Republicans want to throw them out on the streets and make them eat dog food. Republicans have spent much of the last 30 years successfully portraying the Democrats as weak sisters on national security matters, scaring voters into believing they would surrender first to the Soviets and now to al-Qaeda.
The politics of fear is a powerful ally for any campaign. The temptation to use the tactic is overwhelming because, depending on the issue, it works extremely well. The threat of terrorism is real and immediate. And using it the way that Hillary Clinton does in her ad – as a way to place doubts in voter’s minds about Obama – should not penalize her for bringing up a legitimate issue with which the next president is going to have to deal.
This is the conundrum largely created by the Democrats to answer the GOP’s huge advantage on the issue of terrorism. Apparently, it has now come back and bit them in the ass.