Even before Obama's chilled-out appearance yesterday, Republican critics of his administration have been trying to turn the thwarted Christmas Day airline attack into a political weapon against him. Though the terror-watch-list system that failed was instituted and designed by the Bush administration, it was under Obama's watch that Homeland Security forces failed to connect the dots, they say. Critics have chastised Obama for being too late to appear publicly to reassure the nation and admit that mistakes were made, and when he finally did, he was too even-tempered in his delivery. (And that's not even getting into Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano's disastrous weekend flub when she said "the system worked" in regard to their response after the attack, leaving herself open to criticism over how the system performed before.) Now Republicans, led by the party's Putin, Dick Cheney, are hammering at Obama's policies on terror in general.
Cheney released the following statement to Politico this morning:
"It is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, ‘war on terror,’ we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe."
Of course, a terrorist attack (even one that was thwarted) fits very well into Dick Cheney's efforts to salvage his legacy. But it's also part of a broader narrative that Republicans are betting will score them a lot of points. Professional blowhard and GOP Representative Peter King, when criticizing Obama for not giving a press conference sooner, even went so far as to lie about Obama's avoidance of the word "terrorism" on CNN.
At a moment when Republicans are pushing hard against Obama for his response to this event, and when commentators on both sides of the aisle are rattled (even Maureen Dowd ended her column today by saying, "Heck of a job, Barry"), where are his Democratic defenders? One responded to Cheney's attack in Politico by saying, weakly: “It’s telling that in attacking the president and the administration, that Vice President Cheney did not condemn the attack against our nation on Christmas Day." Which is basically the political equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?"
So far, a high-profile Democrat hasn't come forward saying, "Bush waited six days to make a statement after shoe-bomber Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane," and "Under the Bush administration Richard Reid was afforded a civilian trial, too." Now, that may be because pointing fingers at the Bush administration isn't really an effective response, as Obama always said he hoped to be better than his predecessor. But those aren't the only ways to defend the president's handling of the situation, and Obama himself can't (and shouldn't) go after each of his critics. While he wraps up his vacation, if no one else speaks out in the vacuum, Democrats will have essentially ceded the field to fired-up Republicans for an entire week. Some think this is the right way to play it, that GOP bluster will eventually blow itself out. But in a very slow news cycle, where the public attention is held by a very real incident in which many Americans almost died, can that possibly be the best strategy?