After Flight 253, Should Obama Ramp Up on Terrorism Politics?

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Simon Rosenberg, who heads the New Democratic Network, has an interesting take on the failed Christmas Day terrorism attack. He notes that this bungled al Qaeda-linked attempt to blow up an airliner flying to Detroit from Amsterdam “could radically impact Washington’s agenda in 2010” and “may very well knock other important priorities off the legislative calendar.” That calendar is already overflowing with the completion of health care reform, financial reform, climate change legislation, and Obama’s top priority for the election year of 2010: jobs, jobs, and jobs. But Rosenberg contends this could be a blessing: 

Rather than fighting the consolidation of the 2010 agenda it may be in the interest of the governing party to embrace it, and not look defensive, as if they have other things they would rather be talking about. Peace and prosperity drive most elections in the US, and 2010 may end up being no different. The Republicans are already jumping on the Christmas Day attempt, and will no doubt spend the year ahead trying to reorient the national discussion to an area—national security—they feel will advantageous for them. But given their actual record in the decade just past, and the extraordinary mess they left for others to clean up, the Republicans may rue the day the debate became about national security, for there is no way to have this debate without talking about the epic foreign policy and security failures of the Bush era, something they simply cannot disown.

So rather than wishing this new issue environment away, the President and the Democrats might decide rather to make it their own, and spend their political year making their case for how they hope to bring peace and prosperity to a country desperately seeking it.

Perhaps. The problem that Democrats may encounter is that it is easy for Republicans to out-war them. If President Barack Obama does embrace this issue as a top-of-his-list priority, regardless of the actions he takes, GOPers will claim it is not enough and he should do more (such as keep Gitmo going). It doesn’t matter that Bush, Cheney & Co. screwed up big-time on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the battle against al Qaeda. When it comes to national security, it’s too easy for demagogues to out-shout anyone who takes a reasonable approach. Certainly, Obama must do everything he can to make sure air travel is safe—and to demonstrate that protecting Americans is the top priority of this White House. (His initial response was far more fierce than George W. Bush’s reaction to the infamous shoe bomber.) But Obama will have to keep pushing ahead on other fronts: the economy, climate change, health care, Afghanistan, financial reform. An opportunity or not, Flight 253 has handed Obama’s over-burdened presidency yet one more heavy obligation.

You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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