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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Worn Out Flypaper

Like many of you, no doubt, I’ve been following the wide-ranging debate about the domestic political implications of the British terrorist bust of last week. It has come as no surprise, of course, that Republicans and their conservative allies have seized on the foiled plot to claim, for the thousandth time, that it shows how important it is to have a party focused on national security in charge in Washington, even if the consequences of its Iraq policies are looking more disastrous every single day. (The GOP’s comcomitant campaign on the theme that Joe Lieberman’s loss in Connecticut proves there’s only one party committed to fighting terrorism, absurd as it is, is Part B of its longstanding implicit argument that however much Bush is screwing up, he’s screwing up with the right intentions). But I do wonder if the revelation of an advanced plot to replicate 9/11 on a large scale isn’t going to unravel the whole line of “reasoning” that has reinforced the persistant gap between public feelings about Bush’s performance in Iraq, and the GOP’s general reliability on national security. We’re all familiar with the “flypaper” theory, so often articulated by Bush himself, that whatever else is going on in Iraq, the insurgency there is drawing jihadist attention and resources away from attacks on the U.S. (“We can fight them here or we can fight them there,” as Bush routinely says). And I personally think this factually crazy contention has been far more important to Bush and the GOP than most of us would like to accept. Back during the last presidential campaign, I became convinced, mainly through conversations with undecided voters back home in Georgia who would up voting for Bush’s re-election, that the most powerful thing the incumbent had going for him was a rough and unsophisticated argument that went like this: Some Arabs came here and killed a bunch of Americans. George Bush went over to Iraq and killed even more Arabs. Since then there have been no attacks. He must be doing something right.Anything and everything that reminds Americans that the Iraq War has not done a thing to reduce the terrorist threat against the United States will erode that argument, and with it, the GOP’s belief that any and all concerns about national security will benefit it at the ballot box. To the extent that clearly focusing on what they would do to deal with the actual terrorist threat undermines both parts of the Republican argument, while connecting public unhappiness with Iraq with residual concerns about terrorism, Democrats should hammer away on this subject every day. This administration has been a national security disaster. The “flypaper” has worn out, leaving us with a horrific mess in Iraq, an energized and growing jihadist threat, and a country more exposed than ever to terrorism. It’s time for a dramatically new direction.

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