Greg Sargent calls our attention today to an interview Bush’s former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino gave last night on Fox News’ “Hannity.” In the interview, Perino takes the Obama administration to task for not calling the Fort Hood massacre a “terrorist attack.” “I don’t mean to be political,” she tells Sean Hannity, but it’s important to call it what it was, since, she says, “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President’s Bush’s term.”
Apparently, Perino meant that we didn’t have a terrorist attack on our country during Bush’s term beside the attacks of September 11—beside, that is, the single most devastating attack in our nation’s history—which she was actually in the middle of discussing with Sean Hannity. The message, as always, was that September 11 shouldn’t count, perhaps because the Bush administration wasn’t ready and hadn’t started yet.
It probably is fruitless to try to assign blame for those attacks. President Bush had been in office less than a year when they occurred, and it may be that President Clinton should have done more to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. But what is clear is that the Bush administration ignored warnings that an attack might be coming—although then National Security Adviser Condoleeza denied that a memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States” actually warned of attacks—and even shifted resources away from counterterrorism.
It’s certainly to the Bush administration’s credit that we didn’t see a repeat of the September 11 attacks. We cannot say for sure whether Gore or Kerry or Obama would have done as well. But for Perino to blithely dodge all responsibility for the September 11 attacks—while implying that President Obama is somehow to blame for what happened at Fort Hood—took gall. The message was that Maj. Nidal Hasan went on a shooting spree because we elected a Democrat. This, of course, has essentially been the Republican theme since the original attacks. Now that economic problems have taken center stage we hear it less, although just two weeks after Obama’s inauguration former Vice President Dick Cheney was already back arguing that Obama’s national security policy makes a terrorist attack more likely.
The threat of another terrorist attack, of course, is very real. It’s certainly reasonable to argue about what policies are most likely to keep us safe. But politicians go too far when they distort the truth and revise history. When they attempt to blame every tragedy on their political opponents—and constantly imply that if we don’t vote for them we’ll die—it has a corrosive effect on the public discourse. We need to make our choices with eyes open, but not out of fear.