Republicans’ aggressive attacks against President Barack Obama for waiting three days to speak out on the foiled Christmas Day airliner bombing have many political observers declaring that the president faces a “double standard” on the issue.
And NBC’s Mark Murray has a theory as to why that is: The Democratic Party simply isn’t seizing on the issue, effectively allowing the Republicans to control the debate.
Earlier this week Karl Rove and other prominent Republicans took to the airwaves to criticize the president for not speaking out for 72 hours after the Christmas Day incident. But, as Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress, Sam Stein at Huffington Post and Josh Gerstein at Politico all point out, when shoe-bomber Richard Reid attempted to blow up a plane over the Atlantic in December, 2001, it took President George W. Bush six days to respond. And, as Gerstein noted, “there were virtually no complaints from the press or any opposition Democrats that his response was sluggish or inadequate.”
Mulling over that fact, Murray wrote on MSNBC’s First Read blog:
Democrats back in 2001, then out of power, chose not make it an issue the way that Republicans have now.
Indeed, looking back at 20th century — the GOP charges after the Yalta conference, Nixon and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the accusations that Democrats “lost” China, Joe McCarthy — historians note that Republicans have been much more willing than their Democratic counterparts to play the national security card to score political points, especially when out of power.
Murray quotes UC-Berkeley political science professor Eric Schickler, who argues that Democrats used to use national security as a political hammer as well as the Republicans, until the Vietnam War changed the political dynamic.
“As late as the 1950s, Democrats were pretty aggressive about capitalizing on such events — a great example is how hawkish Democratic senators went after Ike following Sputnik, as showing we were losing the technology race to the USSR….
“After Vietnam, the GOP became clearly identified as the more hawkish, pro-military, ‘tough’ party, and Democrats gained a reputation as more into diplomacy, etc. In political science terms, the GOP ‘owned’ the issue of defense/militarism (just as Democrats “owned” Social Security). … So Democrats shied away from attacks after events such as Richard Reid, just as GOPers are ready to pounce.”
The Huffington Post’s Stein argues that, compared to the Bush administration’s response to the Richard Reid incident, the Obama White House has been “quite active.”
The attempted bombing of the plane over Detroit occurred on December 25. That night, Obama convened a secure conference call with his Homeland Security and counter-terrorism advisers. He did the same the next morning and the morning after that. On the 27th, the president dispatched his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, and the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to the Sunday shows to take questions on the matter. And on December 28, he gave a public statement while still on site in Hawaii.
But other political observers, even some on the left, argue that the White House has failed on the public-relations front of the issue. Maureen Dowd at the New York Times said the president’s second remarks on the incident, which he made Tuesday, cast the White House’s reaction in an amateurish light as it was broadcast only in audio.
[I]n a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants. Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days….
John Avarosis at AmericaBlog agrees.
The Republican attacks against Obama over the past few days have hurt. But only because the White House hasn’t exactly done a stellar job of managing the public response to the attack. The President should have been out there on day one, he shouldn’t have gone golfing right after speaking to the nation about the attack….
It doesn’t matter if you’re technically correct if your words come off as creepy and aloof. After some guy who paid $3000 in cash for his ticket, didn’t check luggage, was on a terror watch list, whose own father called the US to warn that his son had become an extremist, waltzes on to a plane full of Americans and tries to blow it up – and only gets caught because some Dutch guy, not an air marshal, but a Dutch guy, jumped him, and the fairy dust in his crotch didn’t fully ignite – after all of that, there is simply no circumstance, short of presenting the public with Osama bin Laden’s head on a spit, that merits calling the day anything other than an unmitigated disaster.