Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Leadership
By Jim Geraghty
Touchstone Books, 2006, 366 pages
These days, it seems that there are as many books about politics as there are opinions. And the more hysterical, the better. After all, hysterical sells. It's rare in such an environment that a book comes along that manages to present a thoughtful point of view that won't be irrelevant in 9 minutes.
Happily, Jim Geraghty has penned just such a book.
Indeed, Geraghty's book may turn out to be the most insightful and important book of political analysis of the year. And the fact that it is well written and a pleasure to read is an added bonus.
Geraghty, of course, is best known for being the author of National Review's TKS blog. From that perch, he was a keen, continuous observer of the 2004 election.
But it's not that perspective that makes Voting to Kill indispensable to any student of American politics. It's the extraordinary depth of research and the quality of his argument that make it a must read.
In short, Geraghty argues that the 9/11 attacks had a profound and lasting impact on the way American voters approach elections, and he concludes that as a result, it will be nearly impossible for Democrats to win back control of Congress or capture the White House.
Geraghty's conclusion rests on two broad areas: historical and current.
From the historical perspective, Geraghty tells the tale of how the Democratic Party came to be perceived by most American voters as weak and unable to fight the threat of terrorism effectively. He points to the rise of anti-war forces within the Democratic Party through the late 1960s culminating with the party's nomination of George McGovern in 1972; President Carter's total impotence in dealing with the Iran hostage crisis in 1980; and President Clinton's ineptitude at effectively employing American power in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans.
In contrast, Geraghty looks at President Reagan's record of strong words and actions. Neither party gets a pass as Geraghty reviews our government's response to terrorist threats since 1979, but ultimately, Geraghty demonstrates conclusively why the broad historical record influences voter behavior as it clearly does.
Geraghty also takes a comprehensive look at the political words and deeds of the two parties and their leading surrogates since 9/11.
Here, he shows how even small comments have made their way into the public consciousness and shaped perceptions. And he wonders whether the countless outrageous comments made by Democratic politicians and those on the political Left are motivated by an unconscious desire to control the situation or simply a reflection of "straight-up cowardice."
Either way, Geraghty's catalogue of these comments is exhaustive and damning. From Michael Moore repeatedly declaring that "There is no terrorist threat," to top Kerry foreign policy aid Richard Holbrooke declaring that there is no war on terror – "It's just a metaphor."
Geraghty's evidence and argument are buttressed by extensive interviews he conducted with political experts both Right and Left.
Geraghty concludes by making a series of recommendations that Democrats could follow if they want to combat the perception that they are weak on the War on Terror. Interestingly, in the current election cycle, some Democrats evidently had a preview of Geraghty's suggestions. For example, Geraghty recommends that Democrats stop looking back – criticizing past actions – and start advancing their own ideas. Democratic leaders have, in fits in starts, been trying to just that over the past few months in the form of a national security agenda. Unfortunately for them, it reflects the tension within their party between members committed to winning the war and members committed to winning elections and thus pushing unrealistic troop withdrawal timetables.
The significance of Geraghty's argument has been confirmed over the last few weeks. With remembrances of 9/11 on its fifth anniversary, terrorism returned again to the top of mind for most voters. Polls showed the President's approval rating climbing and chances for Republican wins in the upcoming Congressional election improving.
Only time will tell if Geraghty's thesis proves correct. But one thing is certain: regardless of what Americans tell pollsters, terrorism is and will remain for years to come a top motivating force as voters walk into voting booths across America.September 21, 2006