'Irresponsible behavior'



At 4:34 p.m. yesterday, President Obama publicly detailed the rampant intelligence failures in the underwear bomber case, and stressed the severity of the ongoing terrorist threat. Nineteen minutes later, Republican national chairman Michael Steele issued this response:

"While I am pleased that the president has acknowledged the breakdown in our system, I continue to urge him to recognize the genuine terrorist threat that our country continues to face. Too often President Obama and the Democrats disregard the fact that terrorists are at war with us, which is dangerous thinking in the post-911 era."

Uh, hello? Obama doesn't recognize the terrorist threat and the war that terrorists are waging? Didn't Steele listen to what Obama had just said on national television a few minutes earlier? This, for example:

"Let's be clear about what this moment demands. We are at war. We are at war with al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11...and we will do whatever it takes to defeat them."

Did Steele even listen to what Obama said back on Dec. 1, when he spoke at length about the terrorist plotters at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? The president said, "This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat."

Did Steele even listen to Obama's Inaugural speech? The president declared that "for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

Granted, at this point even Republicans consider Michael Steele to be little more than a loquacious clown. This week, Republican staffers on Capitol Hill and national party headquarters have been trashing Steele to the press ("He's got to go" and "he is unprepared and unknowledgeable" and "he's got to stop") - in part because he keeps saying stupid things, in part because he has taken the Republican National Committee's $23-million kitty and reduced it to $8 million on the eve of an election year.

But let's cut Steele a little slack here. Late yesterday, when he insisted that Obama doesn't take the terrorist threat seriously (despite all the empirical evidence to the contrary, starting with the president's remarks moments earlier), he was merely being a good party soldier, recycling the lie uttered so often by Dick Cheney, Jim DeMint, Peter Hoekstra, and other Republican exploiters of our national insecurity.

Perhaps somebody in the GOP camp will have the courage to show a little class and acknowledge the obvious, which is that our post-9/11 intelligence network was created with bipartisan congressional support, at the urging of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission; that several top Obama players (including National Counterterrorism Center director Michael Leitner, and deputy national security adviser John Brennan) are Bush holdovers; and that, therefore, the network's newly-exposed failures can't be pinned on any political party.

Obama was implicitly saying this yesterday, when he remarked that "now is not a time for partisanship, it's a time for citizenship, a time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands." Or perhaps he was simply telling the Cheney wing of the party to shut up already.

Actually, this smackdown - posted online yesterday - was far more eloquent:

"The sniping at the president by Republicans, including former Vice President Cheney, and by conservative radio and TV commentators, borders on...asinine. The criticism has included such childishness as blasting Obama for waiting a few days before making a national speech on the incident. For heaven’s sake, the president was briefed on the incident from the moment it occurred; he made statements almost immediately indicating his concern and that he was being regularly briefed; he took time to gather the facts and meet with his national security team; and then he appeared publicly to give a rational, measured, but hard-hitting response. And for this, a former vice president criticizes him. Partisanship truly has pervasively infected our political system when a reasonable, measured, factual, timely and substantive response by a president to a single security incident — the roots of which clearly indicate long-simmering problems that predated his tenure in office — is publicly blasted as irresponsible. In point of fact, those leveling such counterproductive attacks are the ones engaging in irresponsible behavior."

Thus spoke Bob Barr, the former conservative Republican congressman and Clinton impeachment enthusiast. I couldn't have said it better.