If Only Some Of You Would Die In A Terrorist Attack, It Might Help Barack Obama…

Is that headline a bit of exaggeration? Yes. Mark Halperin didn’t go quite that far, but that’s the general thrust of his argument,

What Obama really needs, Halperin says, is a stroke of good luck. “Busy as he’s been, he has not yet experienced a single major moment that has benefited him politically,” Halperin writes. Events like the Gulf oil spill have been harmful, rather than helpful. So what would brighten Obama’s political prospects? Here’s Halperin:

No one wants the country to suffer another catastrophe. But when a struggling Bill Clinton was faced with the Oklahoma City bombing and a floundering George W. Bush was confronted by 9/11, they found their voices and a route to political revival.

Of course, the Oklahoma City attack killed 168 people, and September 11 nearly 3,000. So Halperin quickly adds: “Perhaps Obama’s crucible can be positive — the capture of Osama bin Laden, the fall of the Iranian regime, a dramatic technological innovation that revitalizes American manufacturing — something to reintroduce him to the American people and show the strengths he demonstrated as a presidential candidate.”

If we’re going to be garish enough to discuss the political fall-out of a catastrophe, we should start by noting that contrary to conventional wisdom, disasters tend to be iffy political propositions. Yes, George W. Bush ended up benefiting politically from 9/11. But, down the road, the fallout from the war in Iraq helped drive his approval numbers down into the twenties by the end of his presidency. George Bush Sr.’s approval rating skyrocketed into the high eighties because of our victory in the Gulf War, but he still ended up losing to Bill Clinton. George Bush’s reaction to Katrina and Obama’s reaction to the BP oil spill certainly weren’t political boons either.

How events turn out, of course, plays a role, but so do the actions of the President.

For example, consider the political impact of a major terrorist attack in the United States.

Keep in mind that Barack Obama has taken a very different approach to foreign policy than George Bush. He’s set timelines. He wants to close Gitmo. He’s rolled back some of Bush’s security procedures. His rhetoric has been very different as well. He’s not a man who comes across as taking the war on terrorism seriously.

Moreover, in a post-9/11 world, everyone feels as if the government has been put on notice about the threat of terrorism. 9/11 surprised the American people. The next terrorist attack won’t. Fair or unfair, after the next attack, the American people won’t be saying. “I can’t believe this happened to us,” they’ll be saying, “How could our government have let this happen to us?” What all that means is that if there’s a terrorist attack, the American people probably won’t rally around Obama, they’ll be angry at him.

Beyond that, people are going to look at victories and setbacks in foreign policy and ask, “What has Obama been doing in that area?” What was the impact of his policies?

If Iraq were to fall apart? Obama would be blamed. If Afghanistan fell apart? Obama would be blamed. On the other hand, if we got Osama Bin Laden? Obama would probably benefit significantly because we have been continuing to be active in going after the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in that part of the world.

So, if there’s anyone out there “rooting for a catastrophe” for political reasons, he should realize that he’s actually just rolling the dice.

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