- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A new Democratic survey shows a significant erosion in public support for President

Obama’s handling of the terrorist threat and other national security issues that pollsters say is a “wake-up call” for the president and his party.

The poll numbers have shaken White House advisers, who are said to be nearing a recommendation that Mr. Obama reverse his unpopular plan to try Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in U.S. civilian courts and prosecute him instead in a military tribunal.

The polling report from Democracy Corps, run by pollster Stanley Greenberg and former Clinton strategist James Carville and co-sponsored by the Third Way, a Democratic advocacy group, is the latest bad news facing Mr. Obama and his party just eight months before voters go to the polls in November.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats are not only getting blamed for their failed economic policies, which have put the economy on a jobless trajectory, and their attempts to ramrod an unpopular health care plan through Congress. Now Americans are voicing their deep disapproval of the most important job the president has: protecting our country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Mr. Greenberg and company said their poll showed Mr. Obama and his party have a lot of repair work ahead of them to regain the shattered confidence of the voters on this score. Among their complaints:

c “The administration’s response to the Christmas Day terrorist attempt has contributed to the erosion,” the polling report says. Mr. Obama’s response to the attempted airline attack barely won 50 percent approval. But “now, a narrow 46 to 42 percent plurality of likely voters say they feel less confident about the administration’s handling of national security because of how it responded to the incident.”

c The administration’s decision to give foreign terrorists the same legal and civilian jury-trial rights accorded to all U.S. citizens is perhaps the most politically virulent issue of all, the survey found. The voters’ angry response came when Mr. Greenberg read this Republican message to those he polled:

“Democrats are insisting that terrorists be treated like American citizens, with full legal protections, like Miranda rights. But we should put the safety of Americans before the rights of terrorists, and we should be using all our toughest interrogation techniques to fight back against these terrorists who are trying to kill us.”

The voters’ response: “[A] 60 percent majority of likely voters feels more confident about the Republicans on national security in response to this message.”

As for Mr. Obama’s kinder and gentler arguments for closing Guantanamo Bay and reading detainees their Miranda rights, “a 51 percent to 44 percent majority of likely voters disapproves of his efforts on the ‘prosecution and interrogation of terrorism suspects.’ ”

c Then there’s Iran’s growing threat to Israel and the Middle East. The president’s “Can’t we get along by just talking to one another” approach isn’t playing well with Americans, either.

“In the wake of continued intransigence by Tehran about its nuclear program, as well as protests by the Iranian opposition, a 49 percent to 42 percent plurality of America’s likely voters express disapproval of the way the president is handling security issues related to Iran.”

There were issues on which Mr. Obama seemed to be holding his own, but when Mr. Greenberg added the pluses and minuses on this political front, the president not only was losing the confidence of the voters, but “we see the public once again has real and rising doubts about the Democrats’ handling of national security issues, as compared to their faith in Republicans.”

Unless Mr. Obama and his party change in their national security posture, the Democrats’ long-held national security “gap shows signs of re-opening, with Democrats trailing by 17 points, 33 to 50 percent on which party likely voters think would do the better job on national security.”

This “troubling trend,” Mr. Greenberg’s numbers show, “is especially strong among women, and among independents, who now favor Republicans on this question by a 56 to 20 percent margin.”

The White House has seen these and similar numbers in other polls and already has begun to signal it is taking steps to change course on some key issues.

Last week, The Washington Post ran a front-page story - under the headline “Obama aides near reversal on 9/11 trial” - about changing the administration’s plan to try five of the most bloodthirsty terrorists at Guantanamo in civilian courts. The harebrained New York City venue is no more. A return to the swift justice of a military court is on the front burner.

But it’s going to take a lot more than that to earn back the confidence of the electorate that the people now running the government and Congress can keep America safe from the terrorists who are plotting their next attack even now.

Mr. Greenberg’s poll is more than a wake-up call for Mr. Obama and his party. It is a renewed reminder of the common sense of the American people that the ruling party doesn’t have what it takes to protect us.

Donald Lambro is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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