Obama guided by his enemies
by John Russonello, Wed Mar 10, 2010 at 05:01:42 PM EST
(Cross-posted from Think it Through)
If you have ever doubted that President Barack Obama has an irrational love affair with bipartisanship, you will become a believer by looking at his position(s) on bringing the 9/11 defendants to justice.
The president is reported to be reconsidering his decision to try the 9/11 defendants in U.S. courts. Ever since Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the government would try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other suspects in federal criminal court in Manhattan, there have been loud complaints – mostly from Republicans – that he was jeopardizing the lives of New Yorkers and straining their pocketbooks. Too costly, said Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Too scary, said Republican Congressman Peter King.
A few members of the opportunistic wing of the Democratic Party piped up to complain as well: Senator Chuck Schumer said it would not be “feasible,” Governor David Paterson said it would “frighten” New Yorkers.
A number of polls have indicated that public support for trying the 9/11 defendants in courts rather than military commissions is still substantial but waning in the last year.
This is not surprising, since the vocal naysayers of criminal trials have had the communications platforms all to themselves. When stung by criticism, the administration’s position has not been to offer an alternative view, but rather to use body language to say, “Hit me again.”
This past Sunday the Obama administration got hit from the left side, in a full page New York Times ad by the ACLU which pointed out that the courts have successfully prosecuted over 300 cases while the military commissions have only been able to handle three cases. This is an argument the administration should have been making for itself. (Full disclosure: BRS developed the ACLU ad.)
Maybe it is because of a lack of ideological cohesion among the Democrats in Congress, but it seems that the people the president is listening to the most are the Republicans.
One of the more insightful polls and analysis has been done by Gary Langer at ABC, who points out that the president’s base has had fewer second thoughts than he has concerning the 9/11 defendants. Langer writes, “There has been very little movement among liberals and moderates, Democrats and independents. Instead it’s chiefly conservatives and Republicans who’ve changed their stance, shifting toward tribunals by 18- and 13-point margins, respectively.” The ABC poll shows that Democrats support using federal courts over military commissions.
In other words, by reconsidering his decision on the 9/11 defendants, the president is ignoring the views of his base, not doing anything to win over independents to his side, and telling the Fox News-watchers that he sees their point, and that maybe they are right.
The data suggest strongly that any presidential reconsideration of his position on the 9/11 defendants reflects that the president is paying more attention to the opinions of the 26% of the public who consider themselves Republicans than to those of his own party. Up until a few days ago, this has certainly been true on health care. Bill Maher, in an attempt to point out the futility of such an approach, said Obama’s courtship of Republicans on health care is "like a college freshman who spends his entire first year in college trying to hit on Ellen DeGeneres.”
On the 9/11 defendants, if Obama decides to change his mind and reject a system of justice set up by Madison, Jefferson and Adams in favor of one set up by Bush, Cheney and Gonzales, it will be a clear example of a Democrat who only seems to listen to his avowed enemies.
John Russonello is a partner with Belden Russonello & Stewart: Public Opinion Research and Strategic Communications in Washington, DC. He writes the blog Think it Through.