Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 29, 2009

THE TALKING POINTS NO ONE'S REPEATING.... When it comes to the debate over national security and counter-terrorism, this White House prefers the high road. President Obama didn't mention Republicans or their recent attacks yesterday, instead declaring, "As Americans, we will never give into fear and division."

Bill Burton, the White House's deputy press secretary said the administration is committed to keeping national security issues out of the partisan realm. "The president doesn't think we should play politics with issues like these. He hasn't. His response has been fact-based and appropriate and will continue to be as such," Burton told reporters.

It's a reminder that when it comes to the nation's partisan divide, the two sides are playing different games.

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 -- a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity.

Not too long ago, blaming America's leaders for attempted terrorist attacks was considered borderline treasonous. There was an expectation that when enemies of the United States tried to commit mass murder of Americans, all of us should close ranks, join together, and put patriotism over party. That, it turns out, only applies to Republican presidents.

It stands to reason that the White House doesn't want the president getting into a petty pissing match with right-wing members of Congress like Pete Hoekstra and Jim DeMint, but congressional Democrats aren't stepping up to respond at all. As Avi Zenilman put it, "Why are Jay Rockefeller, John Kerry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, and other Democratic national security voices keeping quiet? What are they scared of?"

I could vaguely understand if Dems were remaining silent because they felt like this is a policy fight they can't win, but that's backwards -- the talking points Democrats aren't repeating are obvious and rather devastating for Republicans.

It's not even an especially long list:

* The GOP's obstructionism is dangerous -- The Transportation Safety Administration doesn't have a permanent head right now, because one right-wing GOP senator won't let the Senate vote on the president's clearly-qualified nominee. What's more, some of the far-right Republican lawmakers blasting the president are the same Republican lawmakers who opposed funding for the TSA, including money for screening operations and explosives detection systems.

* The GOP record is a failure -- To hear the Hoestra/King/DeMint camp tell it, the Obama administration should have stuck with the Bush/Cheney strategy. It's worth noting, then, that the Bush/Cheney strategy was a spectacular failure. Perhaps Republicans need to be reminded of the catastrophic events of 9/11, the anthrax attacks against Americans, the attempted shoe-bombing, terrorist attacks against U.S. allies around the world, terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and Bush's failures that inspired more terrorists and made al Qaeda recruitment easier.

* The knocks on Obama's record are insane -- The Hoestra/King/DeMint crowd would have us believe President Obama doesn't take the terrorist threat seriously enough. Notice, however, that these same callous partisans had precious little to say when U.S. forces, acting on the president's orders, successfully took out Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa; Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's enemy No.1 and the leader of its Taliban movement; and launched strikes against suspected al Qaeda sites in Yemen. For that matter, the Obama administration took suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch their planned attacks. All in just 11 months.

It's like watching a debate in some kind of political bizarro world in which reality has no meaning. National security and counter-terrorism is one of the Republicans' weakest points. It's an area in which President Obama has had his biggest successes. Republicans are attacking from a position of weakness, and Democrats are letting them -- in part because the White House doesn't want to politicize national security issues, and in part because congressional Democrats are on the sidelines, pretending it's 2003.

The public will continue to think the GOP is "stronger" on counter-terrorism -- all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding -- unless Democrats tell Americans otherwise.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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No one died! You try some shit on a plane now,and some one will take you down.

Posted by: EC Sedgwick on December 29, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

good point. It would be nice to see that prominently mentioned in the MSM

Posted by: Jamie on December 29, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

My similar comment is getting lost in a dying thread, so roughly again and with more (from Kos):

1. Kos has a great post now about Republican hypocrisy at http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/12/29/820114/-Assigning-Blame:

In the aftermath of the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas day, we've learned a number of things: that Republicans, while burnishing their Party of No creds, voted against funding the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), that two of the al Qaeda leaders allegedly behind the plot were released by the Bush administration into an "art therapy rehabilitation program," and that there is no permanent head of the TSA because of Jim DeMint (R-SC) ...

2. Yes nations share the "lists" etc. but Obama and his defenders need to make more of this terrorist boarding F 253 outside the USA. I did hear, there are TSA reps in outside airports, but it still isn't "on us" that this happened.

3. Note also, that public participation *is* "part of the system." It certainly is part of the criminal justice system, and wasn't education passengers and telling them to be alert etc. part of the overall transportation security matrix? Napolitano was too breezy with "the system worked" but it was not a clearly false statement. She also seems a better person than, say, Chertoff and his friends.

If we don't push all these points, the MSM will let us down as always.

Posted by: neil b on December 29, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Over the last several days, the GOP has certainly hammered Barack Obama on national-security matters. I surely hope this is another example of Obama giving his opponents enough rope with which to hang themselves before the jiu-jitsu response. There is plenty of ammunition for a response. Though a lot of people are on vacation and not paying much attention to politics, I am looking forward to seeing some pushback soon.

Posted by: CMB on December 29, 2009 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

News flash:

The sky is blue.

The sun is warm.

House and Senate Democrats are spineless.

Someone is just discovering this???

Posted by: TCinLA on December 29, 2009 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

In other news:

The sky is blue and the sun is warm.

Congressional Democrats have no spines? I'm shocked, shocked to learn this.

Posted by: TCinLA on December 29, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

This just in: Republicans are now linking the recent terrorist attack to the scrapping of the F22 fighter jet. Sen. DeMint was overheard telling his confidants, "If that son-of-a-bitch Gates wouldn't have back stabbed us, we could have blown that terrorist right out of the sky!" Also just in, Joe Liemyassoffberman is asking for more troops to invade everywhere! And finally, Pete Hoekstra just wants tighter immigration policies with machine gun nests at every terminal.

It was nice to hear from Jane Harman's office. I'd hope other sane policy-makers will begin to speak up early and often to drive the crazies back into the woodwork! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on December 29, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Not too long ago, blaming America's leaders for attempted terrorist attacks was considered borderline treasonous."

Yes, because the responsibility for 9/11 rests right at George Bush's feet. Hence, the hysterical reaction from Republicans whenever the word "responsible" was even hinted at.

Posted by: SaintZak on December 29, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

As for the whole security v. "treason" issue, look at this: http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/12/orly_taitz_seems_to_suggest_call_to_arms_against_o.php?ref=mp
about Gaga look-alike and really crazy (not just pretending for laughs) freak Orly Taitz calling Obama a Marxist, Muslim (contradictory ...) usurper, and that teabagger types should start exercising their right to bear arms etc. In the Bush era, this would have been called high treason, but that was then and this is now ...

Posted by: neil b, on December 29, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Even more frustrating is the fact that Kerry's presidential bid failed for precisely this reason: Failing to respond to an easily refuted allegation made by others who are fully aware that there will be no accountability from the media.

Taking the high road only works if people actually know you're doing so and not just trying to hide from the attention garnered by blatant hypocrites.

That this lesson still remains unlearned is a continuing source of bewilderment and pain from proud liberals like myself.

Posted by: Kiweagle on December 29, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, why'd you have to insult Lady Gaga?

Posted by: g on December 29, 2009 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

(OK, Taitz didn't say "Muslim" in this piece, but as a whole that movement has considered Obama to be both Muslim and Marxist, despite the atheism of the latter.)

Posted by: neil b on December 29, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, in addition to the excellent list of talking points above, I would like to add one other point missing from the Bush-Cheney record in fighting terrorism: They prematurely exposed a British investigation into a terrorist cell by announcing its existence to the media before the Brits were able to get to all of those involved - which they were understandably furious about.

Posted by: Kiweagle on December 29, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

If Congressional Dems did respond, the media would paint them as petty and partisan for picking on those poor Republicans and playing politics with national security. The Villagers regard the GOP as above reproach, dontcha know?

What you don't get, TCinLA, is that Dems are damned if they do, damned if they don't. Dems can talk all they want about taking back the government from a toxic GOP, but nothing will change until we TAKE BACK THE MEDIA from the same toxic GOP.

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on December 29, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

"The cossacks work for the czar": the reason Dems and the DNC aren't firing back at republicans is because Obama doesn't want them to.

Posted by: Tyro on December 29, 2009 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK
National security and counter-terrorism is one of the Republicans' weakest points

It's one of their strongest points.

"National security" is what pollsters use because "Slaughtering brown people who worship the wrong god without let or hindrance, after invading their country on the slightest of evidence, or no evidence at all" is too long to use on a telephone poll, and saying "running the Constitution through a paper shredder and turning American law enforcement into a Stasi tribute band" while accurate, causes people to hang up.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 29, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I can't blame the Democrats.

Look at the way the press treated Janet Napolitano for defending the system. Look at the way they treat Democrats generally. They seem to be gunning for any allies of the president. When publicity seekers breached the White House, the press tried to burn his social secretary.

When Nancy Pelosi truthfully said that the CIA had lied to her, indignant Republicans were on the TeeVee for weeks demanding an apology followed by a resignation for daring to impugn the integrity of the noble men and women of the CIA.

Pundits like Schmuck Todd and David Gregory gravely agreed and wondered aloud about the political price she and any Democrat who did not publically distance himself from the speaker would pay.

In the mean time, Republican congressmen engage in their own foreign policy specifically designed to undermine the president's goals.

Republican congressmen reflexively reject every Democratic proposal, even the ones they themselves created.

Republican congressmen denigrate and slander the president, during a time of war.

When it suits their partisan political needs, Republican congressmen leave classified intelligence briefings and leak to the press.

Republican congressman openly talk of defying the law and exhort citizens to revolution and violence.

Palin, Bachmann, DeMint, Inhofe, Beck, Limbaugh, King, and Steele to name a few, regularly spew some of the most vile, classless, uncouth, unpatriotic, childish, mendacious garbage ever recorded and the press strokes its collective chin and says "That's a good point, would you care to respond Mr. President/Madame Speaker/Mrs. Secratary/Mr. Gibbs?"

The Republicans do all of these things and worse and the so-called press either ignores, fails to fact check, or frames Republican malfeasance as some sort of "both sides are guilty of this" meme. They are never held to account by the press.

So, I don't blame Democrats for keeping their heads down. We in this country are the proverbial frog in the pot of heating water.

We're going to get what we deserve.

Posted by: Winkandanod on December 29, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

After the healthcare debacle, the Republicans can have Obama. And the other Democrats.

Posted by: hez@bur.bur on December 29, 2009 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Kiweagle has a few great posts (and never having seen you post before, welcome!) about a fine addition to the list, but also especially about Kerry's inability to fight back.

Although, let's remember that Gore tried to fight back with a simple sigh, and that was considered the most un-presidential-candidate thing EVAH!

Oh, and another one to add to the list:

Put intel online: The Bush gang placed detailed instructions -- there were in Arabic, no less -- on the Internet on how to build a nuclear bomb, including the very tricky-to-make detonators. And they did so because a conservative blogger was dumb enough to think he and his readers were smarter than the folks who do that kind of stuff for a living.

That was a dandy that, FSM willing, will never come back to bite anyone in the ass ...

Posted by: Mark D on December 29, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Steve -- Apparently you didn't hear that Rockefeller wrote a letter and then locked it in his safe . . .

Posted by: sober on December 29, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

I said this way earlier and no one picked up on it. Pay attention!

Posted by: st john on December 29, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253."
But there's a cost. David Broder went absolutely ballistic, right? Nothing is more repugnant to The Dean than partisan politics...

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on December 29, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

g, I'm a Gaga fan and thought the resemblance was funny. Like I said, Gaga plays up weirdness for entertainment but Taitz is just a dangerous real nut. BTW folks, watch "Bad Romance", it's one of the weirdest yet oddly bouncy things you'll ever see and hear (I mean that as a compliment.) Right now much of the public is still having a bad R-omance with the Republicans and their allies.

BTW, there is an odd conversation reported here that may shed light on the Nigerian attacker:

Posted by: neil b on December 29, 2009 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"...congressional Democrats aren't stepping up to respond at all".

Astute observation, Mr. Obvious.

The boneless wonders of the democratic party establishment NEVER step up to counterattack anything spewed by republican gutter mouths.

Posted by: JW on December 29, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Are congressional democrats just being realists, as they were on health care? Change we can fantasize about.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on December 29, 2009 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

The list of effective measures is very short:
1. Reinforce cockpit doors
2. Encourage passengers to fight

Posted by: Maezeppa on December 29, 2009 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

As a nearly lifelong Dem (and briefly Independent once before), I don't understand your point, Steve. Senate Democrats stand for something beyond auctioning off themselves to the highest bidders? C'mon, Steve, listen to yourself.

Senate Dems are weaklings. Senate Republicans are bullies. But let's not kid ourselves that either gives a damn about the best interests of most of the country. And they sure as hell aren't going to defend anyone but themselves.

Posted by: KevinHayden on December 30, 2009 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

Not tooting our own horn. Man, the Dems we elect can be such wusses.

Posted by: catherineD on December 30, 2009 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

it's quite a leap in logic from "keeping quiet" to "being scared." that's the first misconception Dems ought to correct.

Posted by: daphne on December 30, 2009 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK



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