Monday, October 20, 2008

The Dog That Didn't Bark

I appreciate that this election is based entirely on the premise that the United States of America has done absolutely nothing right these past 8 years.

George W. Bush gets most of the blame, but as Tom Cruise said in Top Gun, it’s a target-rich environment. Approval ratings for the Democrat-controlled Congress are even lower than Bush’s (some trick, that). The Secretaries of State and Defense have been humbled. The CIA and the FBI are considered bastions of incompetence. FEMA took a beating. The Treasury Department and the Fed recently joined the list of major offenders. Respect for the news media is at an all-time low. Wall Street shat the bed, with the help of millions of Americans who bought houses they couldn’t afford.

As Casey Stengel said of the 1962 Mets, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

[I think this is why Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are the brightest stars of the political season. The only politicians the electorate can stomach are ones that haven’t done much of anything at all – they are blank slates for each side to imprint their hopes and dreams.]

But it got me wondering....why don't the Republicans ever talk about the one truly remarkable achievement of the past 8 years – the total absence of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil?

September 12, 2001
I work in Manhattan and was in town on September 11. From my office on 19th Street, you could for weeks after see the smoke billowing out of lower Manhattan. The newspapers were filled with reports of anthrax attacks via mail. It was a time of great confusion but there was one thing that nearly everyone in New York and perhaps the rest of the country could agree on: this would happen again.

Maybe not on the scale of 9/11, but surely September 11 was the dawning of a new age of terrorism on United States soil. Like Northern Ireland and Israel, terrorist attacks would become part of the fabric of our lives.

We would speculate what kind of attacks they would be. Not another hijacking – the passengers of Flight 93 made clear that the days of hijack victims waiting quietly for negotiations to set them free were over. The subways would be bombed, perhaps, or Yankee Stadium during the World Series. Maybe some smaller city, like Cincinnati or Memphis, to remind Americans we are all at risk.

But…nothing. At least not in the United States. Madrid was hit, and Bali. England twice. But things were quiet here.

When the 2004 election rolled around, Bush largely refrained from bragging on this, though he would occasionally hint at foiled plots. Democrats, meanwhile, made the words “Bush has made us less safe” part of their liturgy, on the theory that the war in Iraq served as the ultimate recruiting poster for Al Qaeda.

But still…nothing.

Surely this isn’t because Al Qaeda decided we’re not so bad, after all. And I don’t think it’s because they are pacing themselves – that may have been true for a few years but we’re now at 7 years and counting.

So maybe – I know this is crazy but go with me here for a moment – maybe it’s because we’re doing something right.

There are all sorts of theories as to why this is but most of them share a theme – that certain elements of American policy and the execution of that policy are actually working. Bush’s wars may have been disastrous for the U.S. but they weren’t so wonderful for Al Qaeda’s leadership either. And the FBI and CIA must be doing something right.

Which brings me back to my question: why has the Republican Party ignored this as an election issue – especially now that they are deep in the Grasping-at-Straws phase of the campaign?

Knock, Knock, Knock on Wood
Maybe they focus-tested it, and were left with the conclusion that Americans still regard the entire subject as the ultimate jinx. If McCain were to bring it up, he’d have to follow up with a knock-on-wood of epic proportions – we’d expect him to personally tap every tree in the Redwood Forest.

More likely, anything even remotely associated with the Bush Administration is toxic, to be avoided at all costs.

Still...McCain’s image as a maverick has taken a hit these past few months, but anyone who has followed his career knows he can go wildly off-script at any moment. His campaign has clearly decided not to make this an issue, at least not a big one – but maybe he’ll try in the coming weeks, as desperation sets in.

It won’t matter though – in the minds of most Americans, 9/11 was a lifetime ago. Debates over wiretapping and waterboarding are so 2006. The only calamity in lower Manhattan that concerns us now involve subprime mortgages and the Dow Jones index.

Of course, there is one thing that could change that. I'd just prefer not to say it out loud...

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