When everyone else goes on vacation, Republicans go to work. As the political squabble over the mosque near Ground Zero continues to stay at a fever pitch, it once again looks like the Democrats are sleeping.
Last Christmas, a young Al-Qaeda sympathizer Umar Abdulmutallab nearly blew up an passenger jet that was landing in Detroit. I was working that week, and I remember watching as Republicans — New York Rep. Pete King, Newt Gingrich, Republican Minority Leader John Boehner, Dick Cheney — piled on.
Democrats were (literally) on vacation as King and friends took control of the cable debate, declaring things, “It’s important for the president or the secretary to be more out there and reminding people just how real this threat was and how deadly it is.” Obama stayed above the fray, entering it with a short speech from Hawaii on how he had everything under control.
But Congressional Democrats continued to take the barrage of attacks on the chin, letting Republicans set the tone. Their only response to South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s complaint about “soft talk about engagement, closing Gitmo, these things are not going to appease the terrorists,” was that he had put a hold on Obama’s nominee to run the TSA.
The sluggish, disparate response, the unwillingness to push back was exacerbated by the fact that Democratic Representative and operatives were hard to reach — they were all taking some time off, and Republicans filled the vacuum. A dynamic was set: Republicans could broadly attack Islam or any sort of restraint on interrogation to point up Obama’s weakness, with minimal political cost.
And the cycle repeats itself. Take Harry Reid’s refutation of Obama’s tentative support of the Cordoba center. “Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else,” his press secretary told POLITICO. “If the Republicans are being sincere, they would help us pass this long-overdue bill to help the first responders whose health and livelihoods have been devastated because of their bravery on 9/11, rather than continuing to block this much-needed legislation.
The New York Senators have also shied away, offering a tepid endorsement of the initiative through their press office and holding back their attacks on Republicans. Senator Charles Schumer’s spokesman person could only say, “he doesn’t oppose it.”
When it comes to dealing with Islam and terrorism and all its political complications, the Democratic strategy seems to be duck, roll, and focus on vaguely related Republican political obstruction. It is August, and all the polls show that people care more about the economy that whatever controversy is dominating the cable cycle. It’s as if the Democrats forgot the riotous town halls last year, which delayed the health reform debate by a couple of months.
As the dog days tick toward fall, and another anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Newt Gingrich is hogging the airwaves with statements like “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.” It looks like Democrats have decided that hiding is the best strategy.
We’ll see whether they were right in November.