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“The Fear Component”: Why The GOP’s Latest National Security Attacks Probably Won’t Work

With the American air campaign against ISIS now expanding into Syria, President Obama updated the nation this morning:

“We were joined in this action by our friends and partners: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments of the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.

“Meanwhile, we will move forward with our plan supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress, to ramp up our effort to train and equip the Syrian opposition, who are the best counterweight to ISIL and the Assad regime…

“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress and I am pleased there is bipartisan support for the action we’re taking. America’s stronger when we stand united and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country.”

Obama obviously wants to spread the responsibility around, not only to other countries — which is crucial to having people in the Middle East and the rest of the world see this as a legitimate common enterprise and not simply America imposing its will on the region yet again — but also to his domestic opponents. However, he won’t be getting too many pledges of bipartisanship in return. In fact, it’ll be just the opposite.

Yes, Republicans voted to support part of Obama’s plan for combating ISIL. But even if they make some positive statements about today’s operation (which some have) or future ones like it, for the most part, we’re going to see a repeat of what we saw in the early 2000s: Democrats saying, “Hey, we’re all fighting this battle together,” while Republicans say, “Terrorists are coming to kill us all, and when they do it’ll be those weak Democrats’ fault!”

This morning, Greg noted a new ad from New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, saying that terrorists are “threatening to cause the collapse of our country,” and it just might happen because Obama and Brown’s opponent, Jeanne Shaheen, are “confused about the nature of the threat.” And if you want an attack with even less subtlety, check out this ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee:

Despite the surface similarity between political attacks like those and the ones we saw when George W. Bush was president, there’s a crucial difference. Back then, there was a Republican president taking actions against America’s enemies, while Democrats supposedly didn’t want to protect the country (even if, in reality, elected Democrats gave ample support to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other elements of the “War on Terror”).

Today, however, it’s a Democratic president who is taking action against terrorists. Even if you believe that action is inadequate, it still creates a fundamentally different impression with the public when they see Tomahawks launching and jets taking off from aircraft carriers on Barack Obama’s orders.

What the public is primarily witnessing right now is a war being waged by the head of the Democratic Party. Twelve years ago, Republicans successfully argued that they were the ones favoring action, while Democrats were a bunch of wimps who wanted to stand on the sidelines. And the Democratic party was deeply divided over Bush’s wars, its own internal arguments only lending credence to the GOP claim that only Republicans would stand up and protect America.

In contrast, no matter how hawkish some Republicans sound right now, they’re in the role of commenting on what the Obama administration is doing, while televisions play images of American military power — again, launched on Obama’s orders — on an endless loop.

So what Republicans are left with is the fear component: Terrorists are coming to kill your children, so vote GOP. That’s not nothing — fear can be effective, and research has shown that reminding people of terrorism and their own mortality can be enough to push some to support more conservative candidates. But it won’t have nearly the power it did in the days after September 11, when Democrats lived in desperate fear that Karl Rove might call them weak.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 23, 2013

September 24, 2014 - Posted by | ISIS, National Security, Republicans | , , , , , , ,

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