Cokie Roberts’ perceptions

COKIE ROBERTS’ PERCEPTIONS…. Pundit Cokie Roberts appeared on NPR yesterday, and talked a bit about the politics surrounding the failed terrorist plot on Christmas. (via John Amato)

“Well, it’s always politically difficult for Democrats when they are dealing with an issue like terrorism. It remained the Republican’s only winning issue through most of President Bush’s second term, and it’s a particular problem for a Democrat who hasn’t served in the military.”

What an odd thing to say. It’s true that President Obama is the Commander in Chief now, but he did not serve in the military. But if that’s why a terrorist threat is “a particular problem” for this White House, shouldn’t it have been just as serious a problem for the last administration?

After all, George W. Bush avoided serving in Vietnam (a war he said he supported) and failed to fulfill his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard. Dick Cheney received five deferments to avoid military service and later said he “had other priorities in the ’60s.” Did this make 9/11, the anthrax mailings, or the Reid shoe-bomb attempt “a particular problem” for the Bush White House?

What’s more, note that among President Obama’s most aggressive critics in the wake of the failed attack — Cheney, Pete Hoekstra, Jim DeMint, Michael Steele, Karl Rove, the cast of “Fox & Friends” — not one served in the military.

What was missing from the NPR discussion — and Roberts’ analysis — is why there’s a perception that terrorism is a “winning issue” for Republicans. As Adam Serwer noted yesterday, Republicans are actually at “a huge strategic disadvantage given their actual record on national security.”

During the last administration, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil occurred, despite some forewarning. The Bush administration then failed to capture the leadership of the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, allowing Osama bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora. Then, they manipulated the American people into supporting the invasion of a country completely unrelated to the terrorist group that attacked the United States, granting al Qaeda a considerable propaganda victory as well as a second front where their adherents could gain combat experience. This focus of resources and attention on a country unrelated to the fight against al Qaeda led to the Taliban regaining the strategic initiative in Afghanistan, the single biggest factor in producing what may be an indefinite American military presence there. The prison created by the Bush administration to hold suspected terrorists features prominently in the promotional materials terrorists use to swell their numbers. The current centerpiece of the GOP’s national security policy vision is a crime under domestic and international law, one that their own dream presidential candidate has said helps al Qaeda win more recruits to their cause. The torture wing of the GOP wants to turn the United States into the kind of country it would want the U.S. to invade. That doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

I suspect that there are more than a few Republicans who would prefer to be holding different cards. But despite a catastrophically bad record on national security, they seem to be winning the public opinion war, if only because they have developed an emotionally strong (if rather appalling) moral case for their approach.

Part of the problem in this dynamic is how Democrats approach (or fail to approach) an issue that should, in reality, be a strength, and part of the problem is lazy analysis like the comments we heard on NPR yesterday.