Live

Watch CBSN Live

Hair-Trigger Nation?

(MGM Home Entertainment )
Maybe it's just me but there's an off note as 2009 draws to an end.

In good times and bad, America's always been an optimistic country but it sure doesn't feel that way right now. After the attempted airline attack on Christmas Day, the chattering classes are again slugging it out in a new round of (increasingly) sour discourse about which party can be trusted to protect us against terrorism. Maybe a recovery in the job market will provide the needed tonic for the new year. We sure could use it because the United States is fast turning into a nation of panic-driven pessimists.
Consider the following:

A new Rasmussen poll says that the belief that terrorists are winning their struggle with the West is higher than at any point in more than two years.

Maybe that explains why former House Speaker Newt Gingrich now says that it's time to profile and to discriminate. "In the Obama Administration, protecting the rights of terrorists has been more important than protecting the lives of Americans," writes Gingrich, as he railed against our "politically correct" government. (Gingrich also extends his critique to include "elites " who he says "fear politically incorrect honesty, they believe that it is better to harass the innocent, delay the harmless, and risk the lives of every American than to do the obvious, the effective, and the necessary."

Gingrich wasn't the only GOP heavy to ring the alarm bell. Former Vice President Dick Cheney again emerged from retirement to accuse President Obama of ignoring the peril we face from terrorists. He told Politico: "[W]e are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe. Why doesn't he want to admit we're at war? It doesn't fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn't fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency - social transformation - the restructuring of American society."

Bryon York, the "chief political correspondent" of the Washington Examiner actually had the stones to publish this mess of a column questioning President Obama's resolve to protect U.S. national security. "The most basic underlying question in the public discussion of Obama's handling of the Detroit case is whether the president and his administration take the threat of terror seriously."

On and on it went on Wednesday. Chalk up some of this to partisan politics. Or ignorance. Or both. But don't underestimate panic. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman's now warning that U.S. troops may need to take the fight to Yemen unless we take pre-emptive measures against al-Qaeda cells in that country. (Since Lieberman is privy to information shown to only a handful of Americans he doubtless knows that U.S. intelligence agencies have been doing just that.)

So it goes in a hair-trigger environment where proposed quick fixes make for great television but usually, lousy policy. But how do you get the public to buy into a strategy that accounts for complexity and nuance without getting tarred as a clueless wuss? It's a lot easier to pretend we can call in The Terminator.

View CBS News In