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Osama Crashes the Democratic Party

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What was so shocking, terrible and unfair about flashing Osama bin Laden's ugly mug on a political advertisement? Hillary Clinton's TV spot was the first Democratic ad to make pictorial reference to the al-Qaida terrorist. It was about time.

How much the ad helped Clinton achieve her impressive victory in the Pennsylvania primary is hard to tell. It was a vague message touting her ability to deal with emergencies and cited a variety of them -- the 1929 stock market crash, the Cuban missile crisis and Hurricane Katrina, as well as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

What's clear is that the ad itself wasn't as effective a pitch for Clinton as was the indignant response of Barack Obama's surrogates. An Obama spokesman condemned the spot as "the politics of fear."

If Obama's supporters want to argue that their candidate can better handle these challenges than Clinton, then fine, they should do so. But for some unfathomable reason, they insist on drumming Osama bin Laden out of polite Democratic conversation, such as there is any these days.

The day after Pennsylvania, The New York Times ran a nutty editorial, "The Low Road to Victory," that bashed Clinton for waving "the bloody shirt of 9-11." Oh, is referring to the event that obliterated the World Trade Center -- still a blank in Lower Manhattan -- an irrational demagogic appeal to old grievances? (One suspects that the Times regrets its endorsement of Clinton in the New York primary, especially since she became unfashionable in fancy circles.)

An enduring fear of terrorism may help explain a remarkable SurveyUSA poll that shows Obama virtually tied with McCain in Massachusetts. In super-liberal Massachusetts! The same poll has Clinton leading McCain in that state by a comfortable 55 percent to 42 percent.

Rest assured that the Bay State remains as socially progressive as it ever was. And Obama is right in line with the prevailing sentiment there that the war in Iraq was a dreadful mistake. But his seeming head-in-the-hole stance toward the widely viewed threat from terrorism unsettles many.

The hysterical response to the Clinton ad by some Obama backers doesn't help dispel these concerns. Most unappetizing were the accusations that Clinton had tried to slime Obama the way a Republican ad applied the hatchet to Georgia Democrat Max Cleland in 2002. According to left-wing lore, the Republican ad cruelly linked the senator's picture to bin Laden's, costing Cleland -- a patriot who had lost three limbs fighting in Vietnam -- his re-election. What the ad did was remind Georgia voters that Cleland had repeatedly voted against bills to create the Department of Homeland Security.

Bear in mind that Cleland's objections had merit: The new department would have suspended union rights, and there was no justification for that. But his steadfast opposition reflected a startling tone-deafness toward an electorate scared out of its wits by the recent Sept. 11 attacks and demanding immediate action against terrorism.

No one doubts that McCain worries about terrorism. True, he is intimately linked to the disastrous (and counterproductive) Iraq war. But he's gotten something of a pass by frequently criticizing the war's conduct and the Bush policy on torture. And he offers reassuring promises to restore international cooperation.

McCain is thus free to convince social moderates that he's no right-wing boogey man. His compassion tour recently made stops at the civil-rights landmarks in Selma, Ala., and the hurting factory neighborhoods of Youngstown, Ohio.

Liberals who blast allusions to terrorism as scaredy-cat politics really aren't listening. They're certainly not helping Obama's prospects should he become the Democratic nominee. Bin Laden and friends remain on the loose, and the public has a right to fear them.

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