Paul Krugman says "the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever," and that the public is beginning to see through the administration's use of fear to gain political advantage:
Hoping for Fear, by Paul Krugman, Using Fear Commentary, NY Times: Just two days after 9/11, I learned from Congressional staffers that Republicans on Capitol Hill were already exploiting the atrocity, trying to use it to push through tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. ... We now know that from the very beginning, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress saw the terrorist threat not as a problem to be solved, but as a political opportunity to be exploited. The story of the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever.
Fecklessness: ...Now we learn that terrorism experts have known about the threat of liquid explosives for years, but that the Bush administration did nothing..., and tried to divert funds from programs that might have helped protect us. “As the British terror plot was unfolding,” reports The Associated Press, “the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent ... developing new explosives detection technology.”
Cynicism: Republicans have consistently portrayed their opponents as weak on terrorism, if not actually in sympathy with the terrorists. Remember the 2002 TV ad in which Senator Max Cleland of Georgia was pictured with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? Now we have Dick Cheney suggesting that voters in the Democratic primary in Connecticut were lending aid and comfort to “Al Qaeda types.” There they go again.
More fecklessness, and maybe more cynicism, too: NBC reports that there was a dispute between the British and the Americans over when to make arrests in the latest plot. Since the alleged plotters weren’t ready to go ... British officials wanted to watch and wait, hoping to gather more evidence. But according to NBC, the Americans insisted on early arrests.
Suspicions that the ... administration ... had political motives in wanting the arrests made prematurely are fed by memories of events two years ago: the Department of Homeland Security declared a terror alert just after the Democratic National Convention, shifting the spotlight away from John Kerry — and, according to Pakistani intelligence officials, blowing the cover of a mole inside Al Qaeda.
But whether or not there was something fishy about the timing..., there’s the question of whether the administration’s scare tactics will work. If current polls are any indication, Republicans are on the verge of losing control of at least one house of Congress. ... Can a last-minute effort to make a big splash on terror stave off electoral disaster?
Many political analysts think it will. But even on terrorism, and even after the latest news, polls give Republicans at best a slight advantage. And Democrats are finally doing what they should have done long ago: calling foul on the administration’s attempt to take partisan advantage of the terrorist threat. ...
Above all, many Americans now understand ... Mr. Bush abused the trust the nation placed in him after 9/11. Americans no longer believe that he is someone who will keep them safe, as many did even in 2004; the pathetic response to Hurricane Katrina and the disaster in Iraq have seen to that.
All Mr. Bush and his party can do at this point is demonize their opposition. And my guess is that the public won’t go for it, that Americans are fed up with leadership that has nothing to hope for but fear itself.
Update: In a follow-up in Money Talks, Krugman says this appears to be right -- the public is not buying the administration's fear tactics this time around:
Fighting Fear With Fear: Paul Krugman responds to readers' comments on his Aug. 14 column, "Hoping for Fear"
Paul Krugman: I can't resist a comment on political analysis: as soon as Ned Lamont won the Connecticut primary, and even more after the terror story, the papers were full of political analyses about how this was going to be a big help to Republicans. Nobody seemed to remember that pundits have been predicting a big Bush comeback ever since the failure of Social Security privatization, spinning everything that happened as good news for the president. (David Broder even had a piece published as New Orleans was drowning, asserting that the disaster would put Bush back in "command.") And it just keeps not happening.
So, are last week's events finally producing the elusive "Bush bounce"? Not so far, according to the new CBS News poll neither Bush's overall rating, nor his approval rating on terrorism, have budged.
Score one for my guess that the public is fed up with scare tactics.