The talking points no one’s repeating

THE TALKING POINTS NO ONE’S REPEATING…. When it comes to the debate over national security and counter-terrorism, this White House prefers the high road. President Obama didn’t mention Republicans or their recent attacks yesterday, instead declaring, “As Americans, we will never give into fear and division.”

Bill Burton, the White House’s deputy press secretary said the administration is committed to keeping national security issues out of the partisan realm. “The president doesn’t think we should play politics with issues like these. He hasn’t. His response has been fact-based and appropriate and will continue to be as such,” Burton told reporters.

It’s a reminder that when it comes to the nation’s partisan divide, the two sides are playing different games.

Republicans have wasted no time in attacking Democrats on intelligence and screening failures leading up to the failed Christmas Day bombing of Flight 253 — a significant departure from the calibrated, less partisan responses that have followed other recent terrorist activity.

Not too long ago, blaming America’s leaders for attempted terrorist attacks was considered borderline treasonous. There was an expectation that when enemies of the United States tried to commit mass murder of Americans, all of us should close ranks, join together, and put patriotism over party. That, it turns out, only applies to Republican presidents.

It stands to reason that the White House doesn’t want the president getting into a petty pissing match with right-wing members of Congress like Pete Hoekstra and Jim DeMint, but congressional Democrats aren’t stepping up to respond at all. As Avi Zenilman put it, “Why are Jay Rockefeller, John Kerry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, and other Democratic national security voices keeping quiet? What are they scared of?”

I could vaguely understand if Dems were remaining silent because they felt like this is a policy fight they can’t win, but that’s backwards — the talking points Democrats aren’t repeating are obvious and rather devastating for Republicans.

It’s not even an especially long list:

* The GOP’s obstructionism is dangerous — The Transportation Safety Administration doesn’t have a permanent head right now, because one right-wing GOP senator won’t let the Senate vote on the president’s clearly-qualified nominee. What’s more, some of the far-right Republican lawmakers blasting the president are the same Republican lawmakers who opposed funding for the TSA, including money for screening operations and explosives detection systems.

* The GOP record is a failure — To hear the Hoestra/King/DeMint camp tell it, the Obama administration should have stuck with the Bush/Cheney strategy. It’s worth noting, then, that the Bush/Cheney strategy was a spectacular failure. Perhaps Republicans need to be reminded of the catastrophic events of 9/11, the anthrax attacks against Americans, the attempted shoe-bombing, terrorist attacks against U.S. allies around the world, terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and Bush’s failures that inspired more terrorists and made al Qaeda recruitment easier.

* The knocks on Obama’s record are insane — The Hoestra/King/DeMint crowd would have us believe President Obama doesn’t take the terrorist threat seriously enough. Notice, however, that these same callous partisans had precious little to say when U.S. forces, acting on the president’s orders, successfully took out Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa; Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s enemy No.1 and the leader of its Taliban movement; and launched strikes against suspected al Qaeda sites in Yemen. For that matter, the Obama administration took suspected terrorists Najibullah Zazi, Talib Islam, and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi into custody before they could launch their planned attacks. All in just 11 months.

It’s like watching a debate in some kind of political bizarro world in which reality has no meaning. National security and counter-terrorism is one of the Republicans’ weakest points. It’s an area in which President Obama has had his biggest successes. Republicans are attacking from a position of weakness, and Democrats are letting them — in part because the White House doesn’t want to politicize national security issues, and in part because congressional Democrats are on the sidelines, pretending it’s 2003.

The public will continue to think the GOP is “stronger” on counter-terrorism — all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding — unless Democrats tell Americans otherwise.