Throughout the Cold War, a favorite Republican political cudgel was to label Democrats as Soft on Communism. The argument, at bottom, was that Democrats could not be trusted with the national security of the United States because they did not recognize the dire threat posed by the Soviet Union and China. This attack, used for forty years, was wholly unfair and ignored the strong line Democrats repeatedly took against the Soviet Union—but it spoke to the voters and the Republicans used it to great effect.
And the Republicans have not discarded this line of attack with the demise of the Soviet Union. No, Democrats are no longer Soft on Communism, now they are Soft on Terrorism. Democrats do not take seriously the threat posed by Al Qaeda. Democrats do not consider the danger of terror attacks. Democrats want the terrorists to win. Democrats hate America.
The theme of these sorts of attacks emerged immediately in the aftermath of 9/11. The 2002 midterm elections were characterized by sweeping, unfounded attacks on Democrats along these lines. Despite becoming the object of ridicule by the middle of the decade, the line of attack has not yet died.
Since the failed Christmas Day underwear bombing, a panoply of Republicans have come reprised the Soft on Terrorism attack, directing it at the President. To characterize these attacks as cynical and inaccurate would be an understatement. In fact, a number of strong, independent rebuttals have appeared in places like the editorial page of today’s Washington Post.
But, while the Republican attacks in this vain are obscene and offensive, what concerns me is not their reemergence—sadly, this is just the nature of the modern, dishonest Republican party—but that the Pres. Obama walked into them. Like it or not, despite the horrendous mishandling of Afghanistan and US foreign policy under the previous administration, the Democratic party is still playing from a position of weakness when it comes to national security issues, including terrorism. As the leader of the Democratic party, President Obama and his administration should be aware that any misstep—real or perceived—will come back to haunt the Democratic party in 2010, 2012, and going forward so long as terrorism is a live issue. Thus, while I have all sorts of other problems with Pres. Obama taking a 10 day Hawaiian vacation for Christmas, his failure to cut short his vacation to return to Washington, DC is unforgivable—while true, it is clearly no effective political answer to point out that Pres. Obama’s reaction was similar (arguably more lively) than Pres. Bush’s reaction in the nearly identical Richard Reid incident in 2001.
While I generally applaud the job that Pres. Obama and his administration have done with foreign policy and national security, Pres. Obama cannot forget that the opposition party will cynically exploit any opportunity presented. Though it may be distasteful, it is their nature. What’s more, the Republicans have not played their cards close to their vest—it was clear from the outset of Pres. Obama’s administration that the Republican party would do their very best to undermine the President and capitalize on any opportunity presented. Here, the President’s reaction—or lack of reaction—to the Christmas Day underwear bombing has given the Republican Party plenty of ammunition to label Democrats as Soft on Terrorism.
Now, President Obama, fix the holes in the system, prosecute the would-be bomber, and get out in front of the next story.