Politico's worst nightmare: actual facts undermine their pro-GOP assumptions

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

On January 1st, Politico ran an article by Ben Smith and Carl Lee headlined "Democrats' worst nightmare: Terrorism on their watch." The "nightmare" in question was not, as you might assume, hundreds or even thousands of dead Americans. No, the "nightmare" was the political fallout of such an event -- and Politico thought that nightmare came true with a Christmas Day attempt to down an airplane:

[T]he White House's response to last week's attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit could rank as one of the low points of the new president's first year. Over the course of five days, Obama's Obama' reaction ranged from low-keyed to reassuring to, finally, a vow to find out what went wrong. The episode was a baffling, unforced error in presidential symbolism, hardly a small part of the presidency, and the moment at which yet another of the old political maxims that Obama had sought to transcend - the Democrats' vulnerability on national security - reasserted itself.

It was the perfect Politico article: It focused on style over substance, it reflected the attacks Republicans like Dick Cheney were making on President Obama, and it forecast political struggles for Democrats based not on any actual data, but on outdated assumptions and stereotypes.

Smith and Lee asserted:

[Obama's] response failed to reckon with the intense public interest in a story of repeated government failures and a near-fatal attack.


the listlessness of an initial response remains a puzzle


Explanations of Obama's low-key reaction in the face of a terror attack include the characteristic caution of a president who resists jumping to conclusions and being pushed to action. They also include the White House's belief - disproven repeatedly in 2009 - that it can evade the clichéd rules of politics, which include a suspicion of Democratic leadership on national security. Only Sunday night, when criticism of the system "worked" comment was not going away, did White House aides realize their approach was not working and that they needed to shift course.

Again: the article included not a single poll result or other actual fact indicating the slightest public concern with Obama's handling of terrorism or national security. Not one. It was simply a regurgitation of GOP spin and conventional wisdom: President Obama's handling of national security must be a political weakness, because he is a Democrat.

And, if a new CNN poll is any indication, Politico's basic premise was wrong. Here's Greg Sargent:

Okay, some new polling from CNN just landed in the old in-box, and it appears to suggest that the public isn't buying claims that Obama's handling of the Christmas Day plot was too detached, cool, or weak:

As you know, a man has been charged with attempting to use an explosive device on Christmas Day to blow up a plane that was flying to Detroit. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama has responded to that incident?

Approve 57%
Disapprove 39%
No opinion 4%

I'm sure Politico will now run a piece acknowledging that they got it all wrong and apologizing for running such a piece without any actual facts or data to back it up. Yep, I'm sure that's coming any minute now.

CNN, The Politico
Ben Smith, Greg Sargent, Carol E. Lee
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