The Aftermath: It's the Terror, Stupid: September 11 Transformed the Electoral Landscape. Only One Party Seemed to Get That. the New Politics of War

By Brooks, David | Newsweek, November 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Aftermath: It's the Terror, Stupid: September 11 Transformed the Electoral Landscape. Only One Party Seemed to Get That. the New Politics of War


Brooks, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Brooks

Consumer confidence is at its lowest level in nine years. The economy has been in the doldrums his entire term. And yet on midterm Election Day, the president and his party triumphed. One thing is for sure. This election was not one of those 1990s "It's the economy, stupid" elections. The chattering classes missed it in the run-up to the 2002 election, but American politics have been reshaped by September 11. The United States is now engaged in a war against terrorism, and our politics are war politics, which means there is a new set of rules to play by:

Rule 1. Forget the distinction between foreign policy and domestic policy. As the economy stagnated in 2002, voters put some blame on Democrats and Republicans, but were more likely to blame terrorism. The threat of terrorism, they understood, shuts down travel, scares investors and makes long-term planning even more uncertain. That means President Bush faces a different landscape than the one his father faced, when voters thought he spent too much time on foreign problems and not enough on domestic ones. Now, when terror happens within our borders, foreign problems are domestic problems. The younger Bush argued that the way to get the country's economic juices flowing is to win the war on terror and restore confidence. The Democrats, on the other hand, kept trying to change the subject from the war to jobs. That displayed a fundamental lack of seriousness about the main problem facing the country, and a misunderstanding of the essential anxiety that stifles growth.

Rule 2. The Imperial Presidency is back. In times of war the occupant of the White House is the commander in chief and voters instinctively want to give him the tools to wage war. In his final campaign swing, Bush delivered a stump speech that had about 20 long paragraphs devoted to the war on terror. He slammed the Democrats for their unwillingness to give him flexibility to manage the Department of Homeland Security. "This is a big issue in this campaign," he declared. It was indeed a crushing issue for Democrats in places like Georgia, Missouri and Minnesota.

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