by Michael Barone
August 28, 2006
There seems to have been a change in the political winds. They’ve been blowing pretty strongly against George W. Bush and the Republicans this spring and early this summer. Now, their velocity looks to be tapering off or perhaps shifting direction.
When asked what would affect the future, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan famously said: Events, dear boy. Events. The event this month that I think has done most to shape opinion was the arrest in London on Aug. 9 of 23 Muslims suspected of plotting to blow up American airliners over the Atlantic.
The arrests were a reminder that there still are lots of people in the world — and quite possibly in this country, too — who are trying to kill as many of us as they can and to destroy our way of life. They are not unhappy because we havent raised the minimum wage lately or because Bush rejected the Kyoto Treaty or even because we’re in Iraq.
They’ve been trying to kill us for years, going back at least to 1983, when a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 241 American servicemen in Lebanon. Then they attacked the World Trade Center, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole in Aden — all while Bill Clinton was president. Sept. 11 woke us up to the threat. The political acrimony of 2004 and 2005 and this year made it seem remote. The London arrests reminded us its still there.
We’ve had other reminders, too. For four years, Hollywood has seemed mostly uninterested in the war on terrorism — in vivid contrast to its enlistment in World War II.
But this year, we’ve seen the release of United 93, and, in World Trade Center, Oliver Stone presents us not with one of his conspiracy theories but, instead, a story of heroism. On Sept. 10 and 11, ABC will devote six hours of prime time to “The Path to 9-11,” a fast-paced, bracing docudrama that tells the story of the terrorists and the people who tried to stop them, from the first WTC bombing in 1993 to 9-11 itself. And this will be only one of many commemorations of the fifth anniversary.
As it happens, the London arrests came almost exactly 24 hours after antiwar candidate Ned Lamont, flanked by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, claimed victory over Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary. The Lamont victory — and the rejection of the party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee — sharpened the contrast between the two major parties.
One, it seems, would withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible without regard for the consequences — an initially popular position for those who consider our effort there either misbegotten or hopelessly bungled. The other, it seems, would stay the course until we achieve our goals — one that may become more acceptable if people come to think that withdrawal would not make us safe. The London arrests seem to have accelerated this thought process.
Polls since the London arrests suggest what has been happening. Bush’s job approval was up significantly in the Gallup Poll, usually the most volatile of national polls, and the Democratic margin in the generic question (Which party’s candidate for the House would you vote for?) was sharply reduced. There was a similar trend in generic vote in the Rasmussen poll, which is ordinarily much less volatile than Gallup.
Connecticut polls showed Lieberman, running as an independent, ahead of Lamont, with Lamont having strikingly high negatives for a candidate with such limited public exposure. It seems to be a fact — remember the Paul Wellstone funeral in 2002? — that when most Americans see the hard left of the Democratic Party in action, they don’t much like what they see.
Of course, they don’t like to see violence in Iraq, either.
But the sectarian killings that flared up in Baghdad in June and July have been reduced — by 30 percent, says ABC News — by intensive patrolling by U.S. and, more importantly, Iraqi troops. It’s not clear, of course, whether the reductions will continue. Other threats still exist, like Iran’s nuclear program.
Earlier this summer, I thought that voters had decided that the Republicans deserved to lose but were not sure that the Democrats deserved to win, and that they were going to wait, as they did in the 1980 presidential and the 1994 congressional elections, to see if the opposition was an acceptable alternative. Events seem to have made that a harder sell for Democrats. A change in the winds.
— Michael Barone is a senior writer for U.S. News and World Report, a Fox News contributor, and principal co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.