Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rally Round the Flag

I agree with Markos. There is an automatic presumption, even among Democrats, that a terrorist attack would benefit Republicans. I had a talk the other day at Drinking Liberally in which several people were convinced that such an incident could help McCain win.

I argued two points. (1) The Republicans have run so long on the platform of "we will keep you safe" that an attack would undermine that platform and (2) the public attitude towards Republicans, and Bush in particular, is so toxic that a significant number of people would just have to question the convenience of the timing of such an attack.

In times of crisis, such as an attack, there is a natural tendency to "rally round the flag" and that would normally help the party in power. But again, when that same party has made a fetish of their national security credentials, any such attack would also raise questions about just how effective they have been in meeting their central claim. That leads into the second point that, while people may not give much weight to conspiratorial thinking, it would still color their thought processes.

Put simply, a significant minority of the American public simply don't trust Republicans. It's that 40-50% who give Bush a "seriously disapprove" rating. They aren't going to automatically "rally round the flag". And any attempt to make them do so could seriously backfire.

Now, any attempt by Democrats to argue this point after such an attack could also produce a massive backlash. So Dems really couldn't make the argument after the fact. But they could lay the groundwork for it now if they were to simply discuss the reality of what a new terrorist attack would mean.

All in all I think what would happen politically after such an attack is just to nebulous to make any definite pronouncements.


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