Blogs > Liberty and Power > What if?

Aug 4, 2004 1:32 pm


What if?



Several my colleagues and I were chatting about the government's decision to increase the security alert yesterday when someone argued that Bush would benefit electorally from a terrorist attack because of a rally around the flag affect. Another colleague argued that such an attack would undermine Bush's claims that he's the right president during this war on terror.

The coverage of the politics surrounding the decision to elevate the security in NYC and DC yesterday had a strong undercurrent that resembled this debate. I was left wondering which is correct? I throw this question to my fellow bloggers and any readers out there interested (of course any discussion like this assumes that we don't want this sort of thing to happen. Hopefully it's merely a hypothetical exercise).

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Pat Lynch - 8/5/2004

I think Kerry has been hammering away on the theme that we aren't safer (and I should say that I don't necessarily agree with that tact), so an attack would make that point and voters might (and here we're just speculating) say, "Ok, maybe Kerry was right about that...." A rally effect during a campaign isn't always a sure thing if it's played right - see for example Iran and 1980 when the Reagan people implied they'd solve the hostage crisis.

So you and Todd are neighbors. Talk about a small world....tell him to stop surfing and finish his APSA paper - lol.


Jonathan Dresner - 8/5/2004

I'm not convinced that the campaign context will matter as much as the Federal response after an attack, when the Federal Government and its representatives and retired generals are on every news show and in every news story, and the inclination for Kerry's campaign will be to go into 'unity not partisanship' mode. But it's politics, and I've been wrong about politics before.

Todd's office is two doors down from me; I'll pass on your regards when I see him.


Max Schwing - 8/5/2004

Since I am from Europe, you might have a point in this. I have only witnessed what I could get from your media and this side (and some others). So, I don't have a clear picture overall, because I don't know the actual "vibe" in the certain states that are about to fall this or that way, depending on the on-going campaigns and so.

It's just that patriotism has a different flavor in Europe, because we had two World Wars mainly staged on nationalistic interests.
While the French are truly patriotic to the outside, they still distrust their own government in many ways ;)


Pat Lynch - 8/5/2004

For once Jonathan and I agree, at least partially, on something. Two factors mitigate. One, as he notes, is the nature of the attack, and here I think he's right. "Smaller" attacks might raise the effectiveness issue without having a rally effect. However larger ones might cut both ways. I heard a caller on NPR the other day say that he didn't much like Bush but didn't want to change the Commander in Chief in mid war. A large attack might reinforce that.

However I would disagree a bit on the response issue. As I noted in my response to the first line of comments it seems to me that the campaign context matters more in setting how voters will respond. But clearly if the Bush folks screw up the aftermath that hurts them - a lot. Jonathan - just as an aside, if you know Todd Belt in your Poli Sci department, send him my best. We're old friends from stats camp at Ann Arbor. Didn't realize y'all were in the same university.


Pat Lynch - 8/5/2004

Setting aside the scale and size of any hypothetical attack, I would tend to lean more towards the argument that it may be advantage Kerry for one reason - the Dems are saying we aren't safer and Bush says we are. An attack would certainly refute Bush's claims and enhance Kerry's position. Campaigns matter, and I think Kerry has raised this issue effectively lately. However I think comparing the U.S. to Spain is, I agree, tenuous. Different countries, histories etc.


Jonathan Dresner - 8/5/2004

I think it depends a great deal on the nature of the attack.

An anthrax scare, for example, or airplane-missile attack, or sniper run, would highlight the failure of the Bush administration to actually address the methods of terror. A 'new' attack (most forms of terrorism have been attempted somewhere) like kidnapping/beheadings or suicide bombings in the US might well redound to Bush's benefit, though if Kerry's surrogates can make connections between Bush's failed policies and the spread of these methods here, it might be a draw.

The terrorists themselves matter, too: some sources of terror are expected and some are not. Witness the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing, where everyone assumed (particularly with the bad early information) that it was Mid-East related, when it was actually more a Waco/RubyRidge thing. Islamicist terror would be what's expected, and that would play into Bush's strengths; an attack from an unexpected quarter (like right or left wing domestic nuts) would again highlight Bush's failure to adapt or think ahead.

The government's reaction matters, too, and in this the Spanish case is most instructive. If the government responds effectively, decisively, doesn't have to backtrack or deal with infighting, then Bush wins hands down. If they blame the Muslims, and they're wrong, most Americans will forgive them their 'natural' reaction. But if they can't handle the aftermath, if they can't figure out what to do in response, if they can't figure out the source or the disease or whatever (again, think anthrax), then Kerry's got a good case for switching horses.

Finally, timing and target matter. Sympathy for the target will be strong, so an attack on the Republican convention will elicit a different response than an attack on Citibank, or PETA. And if the attack happens less than a week before the vote, all bets are off.


Max Schwing - 8/4/2004

That was right, but Europe is definitely a different playing field, for the spanish population had been against the war all the time (might have something to do with the World Wars and so..).
The United States have a completely different attitude towards wars and pathos, which will in combination with patriotism another weapon in Bush's campaign. If there is a second assault on the US, then he has an example on the danger of terrorism and also can try to advance further anti-terrorism (anti-civil rights) laws and most of the patriotic americans will support him another time. (Given the recent polls (how inaccurate they might be at this time) Bush is still face to face with Kerry and all this in a time of the 9/11 report and the unstalble Iraq situation ( a monument of Bush's failure).)
So, I don't really count on truth to come forward this time, but rather of patriotic steam-line stupidity to take it again, if there is a second attack.


M.D. Fulwiler - 8/4/2004

Well, the terrorist attacks in Spain probably helped oust the sitting government...


Max Schwing - 8/4/2004

Given the facts we now know about 9/11, the USA is not shielded against a new attack and no old faults have been repaired. So, a new attack should give Kerry an up, but with Bush's strong media appearance, it will most likely end up being a back-up for him. This is due to the bad memory of most voters on such things. Those who can add two and tow, obviously sit here and abstain from voting ;)

History News Network