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Tilting at Windmills

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January 2, 2010

REMEMBER THE RULES.... Mike Allen takes a look back at the political reactions to the 9/11 attacks, and raises a relevant point.

The GOP is blaming Obama for the attack. But Republican lawmakers, candidates, pundits and commentators -- and the Bush administration -- blamed the CLINTON administration for 9/11. In September 2006, Secretary of State Rice told the New York Post editorial board, "Nobody organized this country or the international community to fight the terrorist threat that was upon us until 9/11. ... We just weren't organized as a country either domestically or as a leader internationally. But what we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton Administration did in the preceding years…We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda." ...

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a few hours after the attacks: "We had Bill Clinton backing off, letting the Taliban go, over and over again." ... Then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), later CIA director, in The New York Times, 10/22/01: "[T]he fact is that the Clinton administration was not very interested in our intelligence community, did not spend very much time worrying about, or using it, or investing in it.... It's impossible not to go there if you really do an anatomy of why we are where we are today."

Now, Bob Cesca notes that it's pretty silly to compare 9/11 to the failed plot on Christmas -- 3,000 innocents killed vs. a guy who set his crotch on fire. Not much of a comparison.

That said, the larger truth of Allen's observation is rather compelling -- if Clinton deserved the blame for 9/11, Bush would necessarily have to get the same amount of blame for the system failures that nearly led to last week's attack.

And since the political world would never agree to such a thing, this is probably a good time to review the Media/Political Establishment's Rules for Understanding the Political Implications of Terrorism (or MPERUPIT):

* If terrorists successfully attack during a Democratic president's first year in office (first attack on World Trade Center), it's the Democrats' fault, and the attack is good news for Republicans.

* If terrorists unsuccessfully attack during a Democratic president's second term, it's the Democrats' fault the terrorists even tried, and the attack is good news for Republicans.

* If terrorists successfully attack during a Republican president's first year in office (9/11), it's the Democrats' fault, and the attack is good news for Republicans.

* If terrorists unsuccessfully attack during a Republican president's second term, it's only because the Republican is "taking the fight to the enemy," and the attack is good news for Republicans.

* If terrorists unsuccessfully attack during a Democratic president's first year in office, it's the Democrats' fault the terrorists even tried, and the attack is good news for Republicans.

If you don't have the handy dandy MPERUPIT list readily available, remember this shortcut: bad news is good for Republicans; good news is good for Republicans; Democrats are to blame for Republican failures; and Republicans deserve credit for Democratic successes.

As long as you filter all terrorism-related news through this convenient prism, domestic coverage of current events will always make sense, even when it doesn't.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Gee thanks It's all becoming clear now. You forgot the other major caveat. Dems are pussies no matter what they do and what the outcome even if it makes things better. Repugs are macho no matter what they do even if it makes things worse.

Posted by: johnr on January 2, 2010 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

I keep coming back here to read Steve's latest posts, but I'm not sure why. There could be a static post that says, "Republicans blamed Democrats for something today, but the facts show that they're practicing a double standard. The media will probably let them get away with it," and basically we'd have a summary of the entirety of Political Animal's content from the past 14 months.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 2, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

But remember, the Republican party is the party of personal responsibility. Unless, of course, any responsibility might actually fall on Republicans.

Posted by: jb on January 2, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, that adds up to a whole lot of tragedy--spiced with some farce--that is good for the Republicans. Extremely long-running lawlessness and incompetence apparent to the least observant among us is the only sellers' market for Dems, as determined by popular commentary. Even then it's just a hair's breadth advantage.

Posted by: Julie R. on January 2, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Nice nutshell summary, Steve. And here's the scary thing: this pathology just might work at the ballot box.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on January 2, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

But wasn't it the progressive Democrats who claimed that President Bush ad been brief on Al-Queda and should have stopped 9/11. Now we learn that President Obama was briefed before Christmas and the incident still happened and depended on individuals and a failure to detonate to succeed.

Maybe the progressive should not make the mistake that the Republicans made and the progressive should hold the Obama Administration to a higher standard instead of carrying water for them.

Posted by: superdestroyer on January 2, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

@jb: Exactly, the party of personal responsibility for people who make less than $250k a year. If you're rich and powerful, that proves that your store of deserved merit is way too deep for you to have to concern yourself with personal responsibility.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 2, 2010 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Equal Opportunity Cynic uncovers the wily Steve Benen formula . I have long been itching for deserved some push back , and now to my great relief some brave real American is standing up . Well , just deserts , just deserts . How could anyone think that the clear , cool rational minds in think tanks working to understand how to present counterintuitive , repulsive issues in appealing language that misdirects the attention from the original purpose , and then confounding the simple meaning of an issue , i.e. , death taxes . I am so sick and tired of the Democratic party and its agents trying to put a negative spin on decent and honorable republican double talk .

Posted by: FRP on January 2, 2010 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

One is left to wonder why our Liberal MSM allows all of this "good news for Republicans."
Hmmm... Maybe they've just been lulling the gullible conservatives for over a couple of decades now, and are getting ready to lower the boom.
OK, so where's the boom, Liberal MSM?

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 2, 2010 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

The people who actually do the work of "fighting terrorism" are Democrats, Republicans and Independents and God knows what else. They deserve to work in an environment in which their successes are lauded, their failures are analyzed and learned from, and their work is not politicized by partisans.
I blame the Bush Administration for not establishing this standard of behavior during the immediate past 9-11 period when there was a bi-partisan unity. It was possible at that moment in time? There was very little criticism from Democrats. But in the 2002 elections, the Bush administration CHOSE to make themselves the party of strength and paint the Dems as the party of weakness. They chose to disrupt the chance for a bi-partisan fight against terror. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Ever since then, it has been a cycle in which Republicans always try to prove that they are tougher than Democrats ("We were willing to torture and they were not! We're willing to invade other unrelated countries and they are not."), while Democrats point out the illogic, the hypocrisy and the ineffectiveness of the GOP policies and rhetoric.
Contrary to the cynics and ultra-left, it has not worked to the GOP's advantage. It worked in 2002 very well. It worked in 2004 just enough to re-elect Bush and has not worked since then. Otherwise, we would be talking about President McCain and VP Palin. The GOP political strategy will need to be continually criticized until the GOP returns to the traditional norm of American politics: that out-parties remember that we have one President at a time, and Presidents try to build bi-partisan operational support for the foreign policy of the United States. That has always been the deal, and that deal was broken by the GOP in 2002, and will not be restored until the GOP changes its behavior. Meanwhile, the voters are not done punishing the GOP for their monumental hubris and ineptitude of 1994 to the present.

Posted by: tom in ma on January 2, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

As I see it, "terrorist's crotch on fire" is an outcome that should gladden us all, and I commend President Obama for engineering this most excellent outcome. It's his fault, right?

It lacks the personal touch of Glasgow's cab drivers and baggage handlers, but I'll settle for crotch-on-fire.

Posted by: dr2chase on January 2, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

PS, having once been in a couple of "that's not right, I will fix it", situations (far less dire than any of the above), I can say that you do tend to act without thinking, and I am mighty surprised that Mr. Crotch-afire survived with arms undeformed and windpipe intact.

Posted by: dr2chase on January 2, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

The bad weather in the Midwest - that's the DEMONRAT Party's fault too. If we would just cut taxes for the rich, the marketplace would figure out a way to stop bad weather.

Posted by: Conservatroll on January 2, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

the most tragic mistake this nation made was not holding George Bush accountable for 9/11. His bullhorn vaudeville should have been greeted with thrown rocks.

If george bush had been he;d responsible for that incident we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now.

Posted by: Saint Zak on January 2, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Steve,
You have it exactly right. All of us in the 'media elite' have sold our souls so we can be the 'media elite'. Thus, our souls have become nothing more than a rancid abscess. The corporations that hire us make sure that the REPIGLICANS spin will always prevail. Thus, the 'media' is hard wired for us Repiglicans just as Josh Marshall pointed out. And there is nothing you can do about it except wine. So Fuck YOU.

Posted by: David Gregory on January 2, 2010 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

i'd suggest a slight edit -- MPCRFUTPIOT: The Media/Political COMPLEX'S Rules for Understanding the PARTISAN Implications of Terrorism

Posted by: dj spellchecka on January 2, 2010 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting to hear the repeated Republican meme that the Christmas Day terrorism attempt was the "first terrorist attack in America since 911." One by one, Republicans claim this as evidence that the Obama administration fails to take terrorism seriously. GOP revisionist history makes no mention of the anthrax attacks or shoe bomber, Richard Reed. Typical Republican selective memory.

Posted by: Carol A on January 2, 2010 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

if Clinton deserved the blame for 9/11, Bush would necessarily have to get the same amount of blame for the system failures that nearly led to last week's attack.

Not necessarily. The shelf-life for blame is exactly nine months. Nine months before 9/11, Clinton was still president. Nine months ago, Obama was already president. Therefore, Bush avoids all blame. Plus, there were no terrorist attacks during Bush's term. Said so on the TV.

Posted by: Grumpy on January 2, 2010 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

It's as if a veil has been lifted from my eyes...

Posted by: beep52 on January 2, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand how this terrorist attack could have occurred in the first place. Aren't we supposed to be "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here"? Wasn't that the Grand Strategy? Since we're still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would seem that the Grand Strategy... sucks.

Posted by: josef on January 2, 2010 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

I am really amazed at the ability of the Republicans to escape accountability. The last time their party was held responsible was during Nixon's administration; there was just too much evidence for party members to act like, well Party members*.
Nor have I ever understood this idea that Republicans know ANYTHING about "national security", let alone are supremely endowed with abilities to cope with such problems. History certainly doesn't support such an idiotic premise:
War of Southern Treason - won by a Republican administration that tried to woo support from ALL parties. What could Lincoln have been thinking?
Spanish-American War - fought against a third-rate power, overseas and included (after the official ending of the war) the major use of torture (sound familiar?).
WWI - supported a Democratic administration! What were they thinking of?
WWII - ditto WWI.
Korea - Eisenhower ran on a platform of "getting us out of Korea" and did. He had the North Koreans informed that unless they came to negotiating table, he would no longer be able to rule out the use of nuclear weapons or China remaining off limits. It worked. Of course, this was before ICBMS; had those weapons existed, Eisenhower's options would have been more limited. Unlike his SoS, Dulles, Ike had no desire to see another WW and, whenever possible, put the brakes on military stupidity.
Viet Nam - Nixon tried to pull Eisenhower's trick again; it got him elected, but he didn't have any "plan"; well, other than getting elected. A Republican lied? Say it ain't so!
Interestingly, we were in Viet Nam longer while Republicans were president (Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford) than Democrats (Kennedy and Johnson), but it's considered a "Democratic" failure". Shows you how far you can get if you're willing to lie to get there, doesn't it?

*As in the rigidly ideological Communist Party, particularly during its perennial purges.

Posted by: Doug on January 2, 2010 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

A wise man once said:
Y'all know the Rules we don't f*** with fools
How the f*** did we get so cool?
Never, ever disrespect my crew
If you f*** with Wu, we got to f*** with you

Republican Party strategy, courtesy of Wu-Tang.

Posted by: Caleb on January 2, 2010 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Bush would necessarily have to get the same amount of blame for the system failures that nearly led to last week's attack.

Where Bush is concerned, there may be a legitimate issue with FEMA-ization of the Counterterrorism Center.

Posted by: bob h on January 2, 2010 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, the media analyzes the consequences of and responsibility for any bad economic news, by applying the same logic, but substituting "economic crisis" for "terrorist attack".

Posted by: N.Wells on January 2, 2010 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

In addition to everything else, what Rice said about Clinton's vs. Bush's efforts is factually false. Clinton left Bush with a comprehensive battle plan, which was waiting for FBI and CIA "certification" so he could send troops in large numbers to Afghanistan to get bin Laden. (Without it, he could only send small special forces groups.) Bush ignored it, and everything else about bin Laden.

Great youtube videos of Clinton dressing down Fox (on their show) about it here:



Posted by: JPS on January 2, 2010 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

You spend a huge amount of time finding and fussing over examples of Republican inconsistencies e.g. what they said when in power vs. what they say when out of power. It's all correct/true!

Unfortunately, this is the one area where there is a great amount of bipartisanship between the two parties. For every Republican example you can find a Democratic one, and vice versa. Neither side thinks very long term, and when out of power they blather on about things they immediately forget when back in power.

By continually fussing about examples of hypocrisy by one side only, you are **in this regard** the equivalent of the Becks, Hannitys, etc. OK, so not so shrill, not so outlandish, and not so crazy, but different only by degree rather than by type.

Posted by: Tosk59 on January 2, 2010 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

It's quite frustrating and entirely illogical and unfair.

Having said that, the meme points to something essentially true.

Anything that increases terror or unthinking fear does tend to favor the Republicans. Fear (especially the unthinking variety) is their bread and butter.

Every issue they pound on, every candidate of national prominance has far more emotional resonance than rational structure.

They are successful because we have been conditioned to make emotional decisons by years of exposure to commercial marketing and advertising that stokes these raw and primal emotions. Fear, Envy, Lust, Greed.

The most honest thing that they've said recently was their complaint that the President didn't show enough emotion in his response to the underpants bomber. As far as republicans are concerned emotion is the currency of the war on terror.

If we're not properly whipped into a hateful frenzy they start to lose their ability to manipulate us.

Kudos to President Obama for his even tempered reaction.

Posted by: Gorobei on January 3, 2010 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Another 'excuse' for ANOTHER WAR FOR BLOODYISRAEL!!! Another war for the Zionist Empire of BLOODYISRAEL

Posted by: Rose Hunter on January 3, 2010 at 7:45 AM | PERMALINK

I think most incumbents are going to be SHOCKED, shocked, I tells ya!, to get the gate and have to go looking for 'PUKIE' 'jobs' for the future. I think the simple populace has figured out that ALL, all, incumbents are on the take except for Feingold Wi. Franken, Kucinich, Dr. Dean, Grayson, and other liberals who keep getting kicked to the curb by Zionist whore, Rahmie.

Posted by: Rose Hunter on January 3, 2010 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK


We need more about the inside workings of the media to explain this, not just gripe about it. "Corporatism" is obvious but not enough.

Posted by: neil b on January 3, 2010 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

All terrorism and all of its economic and human dislocation are good for the Republican Party.

The internal enemies of America have the same goals as the external enemies of America.

The GOP and al Qaeda work hand in glove.

Armed drones over Jim Demint's district in South Carolina and over Dick Cheney's hovel in Wyoming are just as important to our safety as armed drones over the Swat Valley.

Posted by: John Thullen on January 3, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

"By continually fussing about examples of hypocrisy by one side only, you are **in this regard** the equivalent of the Becks, Hannitys, etc. OK, so not so shrill, not so outlandish, and not so crazy, but different only by degree rather than by type." --Tosk59 on January 2 at 9:54 PM

One need not read much Benen to know that he does "fuss" about Democrats from time to time. But the larger point is this: when difference in degree reaches a certain point, there is no equivalency.

All temperature is heat, but I'd reject any claims of equivalency between Miami's current temp of 54 degrees with Minnesota's -12, even though both, to local residents, are cold. Degree matters.

Posted by: beep52 on January 3, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

If terrorists got their hands on a hundred H-bombs and utterly destroyed the United States, it would be good news for the Republicans.

I can't begin to estimate what the balance for Obama is between "good for the country" and "good for personal political goals", but with Republicans it's a lot simpler. "Good for the country" is simply irrelevant. "Good for gaining, maintaining, or regaining power" is all that matters.

Posted by: Ellis on January 3, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hey let's go back even further to the Russo-Afghan war. Reagan called Bin Laden and cohorts ( The Mujahadeen) 'freedom fighters'.
He enabled Bin Laden, and thereby created him. Ergo, by GOP logic, it is a monster of their own making they have not cleaned up in 30 years.

Posted by: johnnymags on January 4, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

The republicans are kinda like that crazy old grandpa who thinks hes still suitable to drive and function successfully in society but hes not really so we all just tell him he is to his face and let him keep on, while behind his back talking about putting him under care.

Posted by: Cyberdaemon on January 7, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK



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