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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Americans Confident in Obama on Terrorism

Oh no, President Obama's got himself some trouble! Turns out that -- according to the New York Times' Helene Cooper -- everyone's trying to figure out whether he's "a wimp or a warrior." And the growing consensus is "wimp."

Like every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy, President Obama is battling the perception that he’s a wimp on national security.

Obama looking tiredIt’s not just coming from Republicans (for example, Dick Cheney’s accusation that Mr. Obama is trying to pretend that the country isn’t at war). Now barbs are coming from the center too. This week’s Foreign Policy magazine has a provocative cover: Mr. Obama next to Jimmy Carter with — gasp — an “equals” sign in the middle. New York Times/CBS polling shows that public approval of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy dropped 9 points to 50 percent between last April and November. Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on the Daily Beast blog two weeks ago that Mr. Obama needs to toughen up with his adversaries. “He puts far too much store on being the smartest guy in the room,” Mr. Gelb wrote. “He’d do well to remember that Jimmy Carter also rang all the I.Q. bells.”

Clearly, Americans have no confidence in young President Smarty-Pants to keep us safe from terrorists whose pants fail to explode. Of course, the problem with political reporting is that the reporters spend most of their time talking to politicians. Floating in the bubble with spin doctors and PR gurus doesn't exactly give you insight into the opinions of the rabble. Everyone in Washington may be thinking that Obama has a "wimp problem," but everyone in Washington was sure that no one wanted a public option for health insurance. They don't exactly have their finger on the pulse of the nation.

If you want to know what people are thinking, you do something crazy like ask them, instead of running to ivory tower think tanks and party operatives. In this situation, the experts are not the experts. We are. We know what we think, so maybe you should ask us.

Which is what CNN did. A new poll shows that Americans actually have confidence in the president's ability to deal with terrorism and that the brilliant minds at the Council on Foreign Relations (which include geniuses like Dick Cheney and Angelina Jolie as members) have no idea what the hell they're talking about.

In the wake of the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner, most Americans remain confident the Obama administration can protect the country from terrorism, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday also indicates the vast majority of Americans believe that full-body scanners should be used in airports across the country.

Nearly two-thirds of people questioned in the poll said they have a moderate or great deal of confidence in the administration to protect the public from future terrorist attacks, up 2 percentage points from August. Thirty-five percent said they have not much or no confidence, down 1 percentage point from August.

So, not only hasn't the crotchbomber dinged Obama's anti-terrorism credentials, but he's actually slighter higher on that score than he was before. A more honest assessment of these numbers would be that it hasn't made any difference either way -- the present and August scores are a statistical tie. Only 35% agree with the Cheneyite notion that we ought to be freaked out that Obama's going to kill us all with his incompetent handling of terrorism.

In other words, all the Republican and neocon freaking out and hair-tearing and eye-clawing has accomplished Jack Squat. The problem for the right here is that the we're rational. "The public seems to react calmly to individual incidents," CNN's polling guru Keating Holland explained, "possibly because most Americans believe that the government cannot prevent every single terrorist plot from occurring."

So, if some terrorist gets through, then that's the sort of thing that happens. After all, the government is just as intolerant of child molesters, but this hasn't ended the crime and no one who's rational expects it to.

If the Dick Cheney Fan Club is looking for a bright side to all this, they can find it in the opinions about civilian courts vs. military tribunals. A 57% majority favors a tribunal, beating out the 42% who want Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in an actual court. For this, I blame Democrats who haven't exactly been vocal in their defense of the nation's criminal justice system. But those numbers will evaporate anyway, once he's found guilty. He was sitting on a plane with his pants on fire -- no way he's being found innocent.

All in all, the beltway common wisdom seems to be too much of the former and not enough of the latter. The next time you read some article citing DC mindreaders telling you what you think, keep that in mind.


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