The Campaign Spot

This Moment Calls for Your A-Game, Mr. President

Last night, ABC News showed fantastically disturbing video of a government test of what 50 grams of PETN would do to an airliner while parked on the ground: Big boom, lots of shrapnel, large chunk of the side fuselage ripped away. I suppose after Captain Sully’s landing on the Hudson, almost anything is possible, but it’s hard to envision a plane landing safely after enduring an explosion that powerful.

Of course, the bomber on the Detroit flight had even more explosive, 80 grams of PETN.

Many commentators on the web are chuckling about the incident — “Ha-ha! He set fire to his crotch!” — but it increasingly looks like we came amazingly close to a horrific Christmas massacre, with 289 innocent lives lost in the air and God knows how many on the ground.

This is why I found it so strange that the president waited three days to address the public; this is why I found it off-putting for the president to declare, “We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable,” and then go golfing. Howard Kurtz tweets, “Rip Obama for whatever you want, including the airline security breakdown. But the golf-course criticism is just sooo lazy.”

If, indeed, this was just some lone wolf, and no other would-be bombers are lurking out there, then yes, this is a frightening but isolated incident that doesn’t warrant a “battle stations” atmosphere. If we’re not really under threat of another attack in the near future, then there isn’t much reason to alter the president’s schedule, or to be sensitive to the image of a president at leisure.

The problem is that by the time you read this, the cable networks might have broken in with word that an international flight dropped off radar on its final approach to some American city.

The bomber says that there are more like him on the way, but of course he could be lying. The British police, according to the Sun, think 25 were trained in Yemen and deployed. There are disturbing indicators that this guy was only the first of many, and you can be damn sure the next guys will be checking their detonators carefully before the flight.

At times I wonder if the White House understands the consequences of a successful attack for its own credibility with the American people.

In 2008, President Obama was elected with high hopes and very high expectations. He can say that no one, including himself, ever said any of his agenda would be easy, but he obviously didn’t mind that so many voters saw him as a larger-than-life, miraculous “Obamessiah” character. This year has been a long series of disappointments as, by many indicators, America’s circumstances have gotten worse. The unemployment rate has risen all year, the foreclosure wave has continued, the deficit has exploded, health care has proven much harder to deliver than expected, the cabinet was full of scandals, pork and earmarks continue with no hesitation, the stimulus web site is full of false data, cap-and-trade is dead, the Gitmo promise is broken . . . The right-track/wrong-track numbers are still pretty bad. Obama’s job approval numbers are underwater, 50-50, or barely above. The public is losing faith in this guy on a lot of fronts.

A large chunk of the public grew weary of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, sometime in 2005; after Katrina and Harriet Miers, the public stopped listening to him and wrote him off as a failure. But the one thing they gave him credit for was preventing any further attacks on the homeland after 9/11. Perhaps if there is a successful attack, the public will not turn on Obama. But if two planes fall out of the sky, the public will lose faith in this president fast. And while I didn’t vote for him, I don’t want him to be seen as a useless joke with three years left in his term. I’m pounding the table over this because lives are at stake, and because I don’t want to see a failed president running out the clock until January 20, 2013.


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