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Posted by on Aug 25, 2007 in Politics | 5 comments

Clinton Upsets Many Raising Issue Of Future Terrorist Attack


So a Democratic candidate finally said what some Republicans suggested– a “water cooler” comment that comes up now and then:

Senator Hillary Clinton said she believes a pre-election terrorist attack would help the GOP (but that she’d the best Democrat to handle it).

Yet, it’s an issue that has been out there. It’s part of the conventional wisdom. And it raises some questions: if there IS a terrorist attack again, is the conventional wisdom correct? Or has the United States changed significantly since then due to intense political polarization and the controversial use of terrorism as a political issue? Could the unity — and trust — given to President George Bush immediately after 911 resurface again or have bitter feelings and credibility issues made such national unity uncloneable?

The press, Clinton’s opponents and mainstream and blog commentators are now having a field day with her comments.

The New York Post, which started it all:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday raised the prospect of a terror attack before next year’s election, warning that it could boost the GOP’s efforts to hold on to the White House.

Discussing the possibility of a new nightmare assault while campaigning in New Hampshire, Clinton also insisted she is the Democratic candidate best equipped to deal with it.

“It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, ‘What if? What if?’ But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world,” Clinton told supporters in Concord.

“So I think I’m the best of the Democrats to deal with that,” she added.

The New York Times’ blog:

Sounding positively Rudy-esque, Senator Hillary Clinton raised the specter yesterday of a terrorist attack before next year’s election. She said that such a thing could help the Republicans keep the White House — unless she were the Democratic nominee….

….Is Mrs. Clinton now taking a page from the playbook of her nemesis, Karl Rove? When she was running for re-election last year to the Senate, she accused Mr. Rove and President Bush of playing the fear card.

The Washington Post chronicles the firestorm on several fronts:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton drew outrage from her opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination on Friday after saying that a terrorist attack in the United States would give Republicans an edge in the 2008 race.

At a small gathering in New Hampshire on Thursday, Clinton raised the possibility of another terrorist strike, saying she would be the best Democrat to confront the Republicans in the wake of such an event. Her comments drew fire from not only her rivals but also the liberal blogosphere, with her detractors accusing her of seeking to use terrorism as a political weapon, just as Republicans have in earlier elections.

Former senator John Edwards (N.C.), speaking to reporters here late Friday, accused Clinton of “engaging in a political calculation” about terrorism. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) called Clinton’s remarks “tasteless.”

Speaking at a house party the night before, Clinton said, “It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, ‘What if? What if?’ “

But Clinton was merely articulating what a) many have talked about b) what some Republicans have suggested c) what bloggers on both sides have sometimes suggested in passing in some of their posts. It is not a “new” topic: how WOULD a pre-election terrorist attack impact the election?

Still, one issue, the Post notes, is Ms. Clinton’s consistency on this issue:

Yet Clinton appeared to open herself to charges of hypocrisy over how to talk about terrorism in political campaigns. She herself had warned in the past about Republican attempts to use the threat of terrorism as a cudgel against Democrats. At a labor convention in February 2006, she said that the strategy of Rove, White House political adviser, boiled down to this: ” ‘Here’s your game plan, folks. Here’s how we’re going to win. We’re going to win by getting everybody scared again.’ Contrary to Franklin Roosevelt, ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself,’ this crowd is, ‘All we’ve got is fear, and we’re going to keep playing the fear card.’ ” Several Democratic contenders — ever-vigilant in responding to Clinton — leveled the same charge at her Friday after hearing her comments.

So what would likely happen in the event of a pre-election terrorist attack? Quite possibly this:

(1) There would be a segment of the United States that would immediately consider the timing of the attack suspect. The color coded terrorism threat system had raised eyebrows with some considering its use politically timed.

(2) The bulk of the U.S. would trust the government and be behind its initial response.

(3) If it were pre-election, the behavior of the Bush administration’s use of the terrorism issue, war dissent or other issues suggest that the attack be framed in a way to suggest to voters that it would be unwise not to change political party administration in the middle of a crisis.

(4) There would be initial unity, but mostly the kind of unity you see at the actual scene of a major disaster (the World Trade Center, the path of Katrina). The country would be mourning the victims and behind efforts to help them and catch or punish the terrorists.

(5) The unity would only go that deep and not be as profound as the unity in the immediate aftermath of 911. A segment of the United States now feels the administration cannot be totally trusted not to use extra powers to get more power or to not further strengthen the executive branch at the expense of other branches and the concept of checks and balances.

(6) The GOP base would come back to support the administration. But the party has lost some of its base so 50 plus one might not be attainable. And many Democrats and independents are too upset over a host of other issues and Bush administration stances and it’s unlikely shunt all of their differences aside to keep the GOP in power after a terrorist attack..

(7) Hard questions would come from many quarters about how the attack occurred, whether the United States was adequately prepared for it and if not, why. And the Democratic-majority Congress would get questions from the other side about it its actions or interactions played a role as well.

Clinton will likely take some heat but she raised an issue that is “out there” — an issue mentioned on and off by others (including Republicans) in passing for many months now.

If Democrats ignore the prospect that it could happen and don’t give some thought about indicating to voters that they are prepared to handle any tragic eventuality, then they’re ignoring the big, fat, elephant holding a color coded chart in the room.


Matt Yglesias thinks Clinton’s comment was a disaster:

…I think the Democrat best positioned to deal with GOP political mobilization in a post-attack environment is going to be the one who isn’t reflexively inclined to see failed Republican policies resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Americans as a political advantage for the Republicans.

The other is that I think there’s a pretty clear sense in which the further one is from Bush’s Iraq policy, the easier it is politically to say that the failures of Bush’s national security policy should be blamed on Bush’s failed policies. Obama has a straight shot (“this is why we should have fought al-Qaeda like I said”) and Edwards (and Matt Yglesias) has a straightish one (“this is why we should have fought al-Qaeda like I think in retrospect”) whereas I’m not 100 percent sure what the Clinton message would be. Most of all, though, I think the politics of national security call for a strong, self-confident posture that genuinely believes liberal solutions are politically saleable and substantively workable, not the kind of worry-wort attitude that says we need to cower in fear every time Republicans say “terror.”

Ed Morrissey calls Clinton’s comment “an asinine statement. It shows what happens when Hillary gets away from her handlers and starts talking on her own. The only relation she has to her husband’s political sense is her last name.” Among other things, he writes:

No one would benefit from a terrorist attack on the US. The net results for the political establishment, including the leadership of both parties, would be all bad. The executive branch would have to answer many of the same questions asked after 9/11 about how an attack could get past our defenses. The legislative branch would have to answer for its reluctance to give more power to the intel and military for early detection and prevention. Neither would have the “it was inconceivable” excuse they had on 9/12.

Blue Lyon thinks this is being taken out of context and has a video showing her comments:

That “what if, what if” in context doesn’t sound like she’s talking about a terrorist attack, per se. She’s saying that there are all sorts of things that you could “what if” yourself to death over that could come up between now and November 2008 that could affect the election, including something related to terrorism (you know, like a video from Osama bin Laden, or another series of well-timed “terrorist alerts” or even, god forbid, a terrorist event). And Hillary believes that she is the best Democratic candidate to handle these unexpected scenarios because she’s been in the rightwing noise machine’s cross-hairs for years. She gets how they operate. And she’s best equipped to handle them.

Creative Minority Report:

Those muddled and meandering thoughts indicate to me that she went off script. I have written speeches for many politicians. I’ve sat by when candidates think they can do better and they speak extemporaneously. It’s the only time staffers pay attention to the candidate’s speech. Sometimes I’ll admit the candidates do well and connect in a way that a speech’s canned rhetoric cannot. Most times the candidates falter because that is when the person rather than the politician can be seen clearly. In this case, Hillary abandoned her talking points for a moment -and this is what came out. This is the real Hillary Clinton. Scary thought because I believe she is sadly our next President.

Neil on Ezra Klein’s site:

After seeing Barack Obama get nitpicked for saying sensible things about foreign policy, I hope that Hillary gets a lot more grief for saying things that are worse….This is what it looks like when a candidate is simply running scared from the Republicans on foreign policy issues. If Republican incompetence results in loss of life due to terrorist activity, it ought to put them at a disadvantage. A candidate who has confidence on foreign policy issues will be able to make that happen. And it’s absolutely essential that it happen, for the safety of Americans.

Kevin Drum:

But let’s not stick our heads in the sand and pretend that she’s actually wrong. She’s not, and we’d better be prepared to deal with it. Now, whether or not Hillary is best able to deal with this is another question entirely, and one I’m pretty agnostic about right now. But like it or not, it’s something that someone is going to have to deal with. It may be ridiculous, but life is sometimes ridiculous.

As I See It:

According to her remarks yesterday, Hillary would not, first of all, be too concerned with the numbers of Americans who were killed and devastated. The way she responded to the questions, Hillary would not be concerned with what a drastic effect this would again have on the country as a whole, throwing us all a punch of terror anxiety, and an attack would probably send the economy into a downfall like we’ve never seen before.

Another 9/11? Now we know that Hillary would not wish another 9/11 on America. It would hurt her election prospects. And can you imagine the spin? Karl Rove left the White House so he could orchestrate the attack to happen right before the elections. Harry Reid would say that the Bush’s evil cronies were behind it all.

Taylor Marsh:

Again, I understand that a woman running for commander in chief has to sound tough, but channeling Mr. 9/11’s script? This pandering hawkery needs to stop.

However, something tells me it won’t, especially with Clinton’s poll numbers set on high. She’s running a general election campaign at this point and Republican and scaredy cat voters eat this stuff up. But will Democratic primary voters? Then there’s the cleavage in the room issue, to use a favorite hack pack picture. Is this how a woman has to talk to get herself elected commander in chief? The obvious answer to that question is depressing, especially since Clinton obviously believes the answer is yes.

Jules Crittenden:

Got that? Another terrorist attack in the next year or so on American soil would be horrifying to think of, because it might give the GOP an election-year advantage. Bbbbbut if it does happen, don’t worry: If elected, she’ll ‘deal with it.’ Sure. Right after she gets done drawing down US troops in Iraq in short order, in spite of the fact that she’s aware, but uncaring (along with other prominent Democrats), of the fact that an Iraq without US forces there to protect them at this point would face certain genocide.

That the sitting Senator of the state which suffered the greatest number of losses on 9-11 would make these kinds of blatantly self-serving remarks about the possibility of another terrorist attack happening before the 2008 elections are very telling as to what her priorities are, and they have nothing to do with protecting the American people, but instead protecting Hillary Clinton’s chances of getting elected to serve as the first female president and Commander in Chief.

Blank and Giggles points to the comments and writes:

I believe Hillary is Dubya-Lite. It is proven to me by her reluctance to apologize for her vote, her recent comment that the surge is working, and her place in the establishment and her tie-in with lobbyists. Her recent fear mongering is only the worst of it..Please stop her. Please..

The Politico’s Ben Smith:

Whoa. Was she playing the terror card? Isn’t that the other team’s playbook? From Washington, the New York Post’s Geoff Earle writes up the AP quotes with the headline, “HILL: TERROR WOULD BE GOP BOOST.”

A little bird with an elephant’s memory reminds us that in the past, Clinton has maintained, as she did in The Washington Post in April, that terrorism “shouldn’t be a Democratic fight or a Republican fight.”

No More Mister Nice Blog:

If we’re attacked again, the response will be pure reptile brain — no thought involved. We have a Daddy in the White House and we’ll cleave to Daddy, hoping Daddy will make it allgone. The media will abet the process, but the process will start in the most primitive part of most Americans’ psyches, the part the GOP has been relentlessly massaging at least since Reagan….

…..Which is not to say that Hillary should have said this. She shouldn’t have — not because she’s wrong, but because she should have known it would go through the right-wing truth mutation machine and come out utterly distorted. And so it has: Already her statement is being distorted as (my paraphrase) Hillary Clinton thinks another terrorist attack would be bad not because it would kill Americans, but because it would help the GOP. For more distortions, read any Murdoch paper or right-wing blog in the next several days, or just watch any political talk show this coming Sunday.

Oliver Willis:

You would think most liberals and Democrats would realize by now that the equation the media pushed from 2001-5 – that terrorism automatically helps Republicans – is no longer operative, but apparently someone forgot to tell Sen. Clinton….If we were hit with another terror attack, most people would likely trust Hillary Clinton or any other Democratic candidate over George W. Bush.

The Black Republican:

The only thing I can conclude from this is that Hillary is praying that we do not have another terrorist attack because it would hurt her chances of obtaining the power she so desperately craves. I cannot see how anyone could interpret those words any differently.

Me, I pray we do not have another terrorist attack because I don’t want Americans to die or this country to be hurt. I guess that just makes me a simple hick from flyover country who just doesn’t “get” the nuanced thinking of someone like Mrs. Bill Clinton. Something tells me I’m in better company.


As if any further proof were needed that Hillary is the Democratic candidate only the Beltway could love.

-Sister Toldjah:

The remarks provide a startingly clear insight into what Hillary Clinton’s priorities are, and they, of course, has nothing to do with protecting the American people.

Religopolitical Talk:

Basically she said, “Republicans superior on terror and protecting the populous,” which is the logical conclusion to her conclusion. This is one of the main powers given to the government via the Constitution, that is, protecting the populous.

–Karen Tumulty at TIME Swampland:

Hillary Clinton makes the, uh, interesting argument that her experience fighting off Republican attacks has made her the best equipped candidate to deal with terrorist ones. She also seems to be conceding–and amplifying–Karl Rove’s point that voters won’t trust Democrats to deal with terrorism.

Liberty Pundit:

But Hillary is right about one thing: should a terrorist attack happen again between now and the election (God forbid), it would indeed be a boost for the GOP. Not because Republicans would have done anything to earn it, but because it would remind people, very vividly, where the Democrats are on this war. …

….But I gotta give Hillary credit…she can certainly play the fear card better than any politician in Washington. She’s saying the same thing that the Democrats and their nutroot allies have been saying for the past four years, that Bush and the Republicans would let a terrorist attack happen right before an important election so as to swing it in their favor.

Left In The West:

Only thing is, it’s not true that Americans think the GOP is better on national security. In an August 1 Rasmussen poll, it’s the Democratic party voters trust more on national security issues, 42 to 40 percent. An August 21 Rasmussen poll reversed the numbers – 44 to 40 percent – trust Republicans more on the issue. In short, it’s neck-and-neck.

What’s true is that rhetoric from prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton only feeds into the media’s implicit belief that Republicans are better suited to security. If a Democrat says that a Republican is better for an important job, voters will simply opt for the Republican — even if the Democrat is implying that she’s just as good as a Republican on that issue.

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