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Cass Sunstein’s Memo To Democrats: “Keep Terrorism Out Of The News.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

University of Chicago Law Professor Cass Sunstein calls them as he sees them, as was obvious from his analyisis of the NSA’s authority to conduct warrantless surveillance of Al Qaeda contactings its U.S. operatives.

Now Professor Sunstein has written a telling little essay for The New Republic, which that magazine’s headline writer has misrepresented with the title Mortal Combat: By Stoking Fear, Republicans Gain An Edge Over Democrats.”

The essay says almost nothing about Republicans “stoking fear,” although it includes the line “So Karl Rove knows exactly what he is doing.”

Rather, Professor Sunstein delivers some hard news for Democrats:  When Americans are concerned about their safety, they turn to George Bush and the GOP.  Some key excerpts:

Republicans say that national security is a winning issue for them; Democrats say the same thing. Social science evidence strongly suggests that the Republicans are right, because the politics of terrorism touches a chord that produces much more support for them than for Democrats: our own mortality….

The upshot is simple. Unless circumstances have relevantly changed since 2004, Bush–and almost certainly Republican candidates more generally–are likely to benefit from any reference to terrorism or the September 11 attacks. So Karl Rove knows exactly what he is doing….

To know whether and how Democrats might change the recent dynamics, we need to understand why, exactly, mortality salience and the September 11 attacks have worked in the favor of Republican leaders.

There are two possibilities. The first is that, across the political spectrum, many people believe, on reflection, that President Bush is simply likely to be better in protecting national security and hence in protecting people against the threat of dying from a terrorist attack. When the debate centers on education or clean air or climate change, Democrats win; when it focuses on terrorism, Republicans win. And the reason has to do with people’s considered judgments about which party would do best on particular issues….

The second possible explanation hinges on more unconscious judgments–that a reminder of mortality, or of the September 11 attacks, triggers a kind of visceral fear and outrage, and that visceral fear and outrage lead people to support the leader who seems firmer, stronger, and more aggressive.

Democrats would like to think that the situation is very different now from what it was in 2004, and that the issue of terrorism may even work in their favor. With the war in Iraq going so badly, perhaps a reminder of the September 11 attacks no longer has the effect that it had even two years ago. It’s possible, but I doubt it. There has been no successful attack on the United States in the last five years, and it remains true that Republican candidates project greater firmness, aggression, and resolve.

Professor Sunstein concludes that the Democrats’ best strategy is to “try to keep terrorism out of the news.”  Rather than an essay on the GOP “stoking fear,” it is really an argument on how the Dems need to hide the threat from the public if they want to win.

This is, I think, an incredible admission against interest. It is jarring to see a widely respected scholar bluntly counsel the Democratic party that it needs to turn the conversation away from terrorism because terrorism is a losing issue for the party. National security ought to be far beyond politics, especially when the threats the nation faces are immense.  (Just read the transcript of yesterday’s interview with General Abizaid if you need additional persuading on this point.)

It will be difficult to keep terrorist plots out of the news when theDutch airforce has to escort a Northwest Airlines flight back to the Amsterdam airport, or when the FBI breaks up another terrorist cell in western New York, both of which events happened this morning. (The New York arrests are of Sri Laken terrorists, not jihadists, but demonstrate how a free society is open to the people who do not use its liberty to advance liberty.)  Media coverage of the Islamist fascist threat can rise or fall, but it doesn’t change the level of the threat which is high as the London plot proved again.  That plot was the tip of a giant iceberg, but as Sunstein admits, it is in the Democrats’ interests not to note the iceberg’s existence, much less its size or the danger it poses. 

Sunstein is just telling it the way it is.  Democrats have a huge reason to deny the dangers to the nation’s security.  And they routinely do.  Which is why you can’t trust them on this issue, and why you shouldn’t vote for them in this time of war.

But don’t believe me.  Believe Professor Sunstein and The New Republic.


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