Terrorism and the US Election: Trial Balloons and Spin Print
Justice News
Friday, 30 July 2004 11:22
commondreams.org: Tom Ridge, the federal official in charge of defending the United States against terrorism, was o­n message when he told a July 14 news conference: ?We don?t do politics at Homeland Security.? Such high-level claims of patriotic purity have been routine since 9/11. But in this election year, they?re more ludicrous than ever.


Terrorism and the Election: Trial Balloons and Spin

By Norman Solomon

    Days earlier, alongside a photo of Ridge, a headline o­n USA Today?s
front page had declared: ?Election Terror Threat Intensifies.? There was
unintended irony in the headline.

     While a real threat of terrorism exists in the United States, we
should also acknowledge that an intensifying ?election terror threat? is
coming from the Bush administration. With scarcely 100 days to go until
Election Day, the White House is desperate to wring every ounce of
advantage from the American Flag, patriotism, apple pie -- and the subject
of ?terrorism.?

     Newsweek reported a week after July Fourth that Ridge?s agency ?asked
the Justice Department?s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal
steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an
attack to take place.? The media response was mostly negative, and the Bush
administration proceeded with its intended dual message of portraying a
postponement as far-fetched -- yet not quite unthinkable.

     Even while the bulk of commentators panned the postponement scenario,
the Bush political team had succeeded in getting it o­n the media table
without causing a massive sustained uproar. That?s dangerous.

     The leading White House strategist, Karl Rove, has a record of shoving
the envelope in order to win. Forget ethics or honesty. Some of the
documentation about Rove is downright chilling in the book ?Bush?s Brain:
How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential,? co-authored by TV news
correspondent James Moore and Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater.

     If a terrorist attack occurs between now and Nov. 2, the
administration would be much more likely to postpone the election if the
Republican ticket is behind in the polls. That kind of unprecedented
manipulation of the U.S. presidential election system should be strictly

     Several days after Newsweek broke the story, a Washington Post
editorial -- ostensibly shooting at the trial balloon -- commented that
?powerful emotional and even political arguments exist for holding a
presidential election o­n the day it was meant to be held, regardless of
what happens and who is unable to vote, just as it was held during the
Civil War and just as it would be held in case of a hurricane, flood, fire
or other natural catastrophe.?

     Yet the Post editorial?s conclusion portrayed the postponement
scenario in somewhat less than unequivocal terms: ?Congress should think
through the consequences of a disrupted election, but it should remain
extremely wary of any scheme to hold a presidential election at any time
other than the first Tuesday of November.? That kind of language falls
short of a clarion call to block Machiavellian postponement of the national
Election Day.

     Meanwhile, rhetorical manipulations about terrorism and the election
are already upon us. Pro-Bush spinners have put out the fatuous idea that a
pre-election terrorist attack o­n the USA would amount to an effort to oust
the incumbent from the White House. Yet President Bush?s approval ratings
skyrocketed across the country immediately after Sept. 11, 2001.

     If anyone stands to gain politically from a terrorist attack in the
United States before Election Day, in my opinion, it?s George W. Bush. But
many journalists have bought into the opposite line, which sets the stage
for Republicans to claim that a Bush-Cheney victory is necessary to show
terrorists that America refuses to be intimidated.

     The GOP?s Sen. Richard Shelby said as much o­n MSNBC?s prime-time
?Hardball? show July 8: ?It won?t work in America. I?ll tell you, I believe
if they try that in America and think it?s going to influence the election,
it will do the opposite. The American people traditionally have rallied
behind the government, the flag, and we would do it in this case. We?re not
going to let outsiders, terrorists or other foreign powers, influence our
elections, tell us what to do.?

     While questioning Democratic Sen. John Breaux, the ?Hardball? host
Chris Matthews energetically blew smoke: ?What happens, Sen. Breaux, if it
looks like that al-Qaeda is playing cards here, playing a game of trying to
get people to vote Democrat for president, to basically make their case
worldwide? Doesn?t it put your party in a terrible position of having
al-Qaeda rooting for you??

     The question, based o­n a faulty premise, pretended to know something
that isn?t known. Given that the 9/11 terrorist attacks became an overnight
political boon for President Bush, it would be more rational to ask how
much the Bush-Cheney ticket is likely to gain from a terrorist attack o­n
U.S. soil before voters pass judgment o­n Election Day.


Norman Solomon is co-author, with Reese Erlich, of ?Target Iraq: What the
News Media Didn?t Tell You.? His columns and other writings can be found at

Last Updated on Friday, 30 July 2004 11:22