WASHINGTON — Friday’s failed terrorist attack on Northwest Flight 253 has led to a resurgent debate on national security, and one political science expert said Monday that the GOP is exploiting and politicizing the debate for its personal gain.
“What the GOP sees as its clear ability to attack the Obama administration is on this question of national security and terrorism,” Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics at Princeton University, said on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.
“It’s sad but there is a way in which this terrorist plot, which did not actually take any American lives,” she continued. “At least some members of the GOP clearly saw this as a holiday gift — an opportunity to once again put terrorism on the agenda, someplace they think they are strong.”
“The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your family safe and secure during this busy holiday season,” President Obama said Monday. His spokesman Robert Gibbs urged the public to “make protecting our nation a nonpartisan issue.”
But as Lacewell pointed out, the GOP has thrown a flurry of partisan punches at Obama for this incident.
“It’s not surprising,” Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the leading Republican on the House intelligence committee, said shortly after the foiled attempt at terrorism. “People have got to start connecting the dots here and maybe this is the thing that will connect the dots for the Obama administration.”
Asked on Fox News Sunday whether he thinks it’s “fair” to blame Obama for the attacks, Hoekstra responded: “Yeah, I think it really is.”
“The Obama administration came in and said we’re not going to use the word terrorism anymore, we’re going to call it man made disasters, trying to, I think, downplay the threat from terrorism,” he said. “In reality, it’s getting much more complex.”
As Maddow pointed out in the segment, Hoekstra has made the terror attempt a central theme in his recent fundraising email to supporters.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) slammed Obama on Fox News Sunday for “soft talk about engagement.”
“These things are not gonna appease the terrorists,” DeMint said, referring also to the plan to close Guantanamo Bay. “They’re gonna keep coming after us, and we can’t have politics as usual in Washington, and I’m afraid that’s what we’ve got right now with airport security.”
DeMint also warned that the failed terror plot may encourage greater “unionizing” among airport security personnel. He defended his stalling of Obama’s nominee for Transport Security Administration chief by alleging that unionization would weaken America’s safety.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) accused Obama of not being more forceful after the Christmas day attempt.
“This came very close to being one of the greatest tragedies in the history of our country,” King said on CNN Saturday. “It is important at a time like this that the President of the United States or someone in the administration would step forward.”
“100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today,” he added.
The incident has also led to a resurgent debate on racial profiling.
Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher advocated full-fledged profiling of Muslims at airports, saying Sunday on Fox News that “there should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name ‘Abdul’ or ‘Ahmed’ or ‘Mohammad.'”
Lacewell said these GOP criticisms are eager attempts to score political points by undermining Obama. “The can’t go after him on the economy,” she said, “they handed him a tanking economy.”
This video is from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Dec. 28, 2009.