Over at the American Spectator, Philip Klein notes a reference to “the 9/11 card” in New York magazine and observes that one of the primary fault lines between the parties is whether they think our national response to the threat of al-Qaeda demonstrated on that day has been appropriate (or perhaps even insufficient!) or whether they think we have reacted wildly and recklessly.
I have always argued that one of the biggest dangers we face is that as the years go by without a terrorist attack on American soil, and as the costs of fighting terrorism mount, people will want to return to the days when we treated terrorism as a “managable” threat. Of course, it would be a huge mistake to point to the absence of attacks that have been the result of increased vigilance against terrorism as an excuse to return to the lax attitude that brought us 9/11 in the first place.
The 2008 election, I believe, will hinge on this very issue. Do we want to return to the days when terrorism was a part of political life, but not the central part, or do we want to remain committed to aggressively battling jihadists? That’s why I think the election will come down to Obama vs. Giuliani–both of them are the purest representatives of each point of view. Liberals will argue that they’re every bit as committed to defeating terrorism as conservatives, only smarter about it. But underlying all of their arguments is a mocking attitude toward those of us who believe that the war on terrorism is worth fighting–they believe that conservatives are wildly exaggerating the threat of terrorism and Islamism and that we are overly obsessed with 9/11.
I know which side I think is right; but I also know that recent events like the 2006 election suggest that at least a small majority of the country might disagree with me.
Think about it – the Taliban tried to assassinate Cheney yesterday. Could you imagine if that had occurred in 2002? The snarky too-bad-they-missed comments on Huffington Post would be considered too tasteless for public comment. As mentioned in the Corner yesterday, there would be serious discussion in Congress about how best to strike back at Taliban interests in Pakistan. (As our new DNI said yesterday, Pakistan is where the real fight is going on these days.) Heck, had this happened a few years back, Toby Keith would be working on a song about it.
Today, the standard comment after any terror warning is a suspicious “I question the timing.” The color-coded homeland security system is widely derided as a joke, and we seem permanently stuck on “yellow with spots of orange.” When they foiled the plot to bomb airliners in London last summer, some folks honestly charged the whole thing was a hoax designed to distract from Ned Lamont’s victory in the Connecticut senatorial primary.
As of this moment, a Rudy vs. Obama showdown seems believable, and I’m not certain that the country wouldn’t be sorely tempted by an Obama presidency under that scenario. To Joe Voter, why not choose a man who is completely unassociated with the 9/11 attacks, and who goes on and on about this warm, friendly, “audacity of hope”, compared to a man who reminds us of one of our darkest days?
And yet… this all presumes that our life continues as “normal,” the way it is today. If we’re digging bodies out of a pile of rubble in the middle of one of our great cities, will the country be as eager to give the new guy a try just because he’s so charismatic? If we’re afraid of inhaling poison in our mailboxes, will John Edwards look like he’s the man who can take commend in a crisis?
For that matter, will Rudy, McCain, or Mitt? Or anybody else?
That is the supreme gamble that every candidate is making as they position their candidacies for 2008. Come Election Day next year, will we have the same priorities then as we do now?