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Homeland Security Is Not a 2012 Election Issue

Unless there is a terrorist attack, an epic natural disaster (e.g., Hurricane Katrina) or another widescale disastrous event (e.g., BP oil spill/accident, electrical grid failure), homeland security will not be a deciding factor in the 2012 presidential race.

That’s hard to believe, considering the long shadow the homeland security issue had in the 2004 and 2008 presidential races. In both of those races, the image of the 9/11 attacks as well as the stewardship of the governmental components charged with safeguarding the American populace was very much on people’s minds. Now, more than a decade after the 9/11 carnage and with no successful attack on the homeland since then, the issue of homeland security is practically an afterthought.

Just because it’s not on the immediate radar of what people are talking about doesn’t mean that the two candidates don’t care about the issue. Both campaigns have their respective position papers and talking points as well as notable surrogates ready to talk about what “their guy” has to say about the issue. Both of them also have records on homeland issues on which they have to promote and defend themselves – President Barack Obama with his four years of DHS on his watch and Romney with his four years as Massachusetts governor.

While overall “homeland” issues may not be top-tiered ranked, there are certainly specialty issues that are hot buttons to various voter blocks. Those include border control/enforcement issues, immigration positions, civil rights/civil liberties, and so forth. When you consider all of those issues, right now it doesn’t appear that any of them is going to make or break the campaigns of Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan in 2012.

I’ve thought about that for some time as I’ve watched the 2012 race unfold. During the various GOP contender debates, there would be a stray homeland security question that might be raised, usually addressing border security and immigration. Most, if not all, of the candidate responses played to the audience, who were happy to cheer or boo what they liked and what they didn’t. Those were always interesting to take in, as it told you who was more interesting in blatantly pandering to a red-meat crowd and who had actually turned on their brains to think about the issue before they opened their mouths.

Romney AZ rally

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney giving an interview at a supporters rally in Paradise Valley, Ariz., December 2011. Photo by Gage Skidmore

With the two candidate teams now in place, we are left to sort out the issues on which they are making their case to the voting public (and by default to the Electoral College). We have the economy, entitlements, tax rates, and the national debt, as well as issues such as a potentially nuclear weapon wielding Iran and the ongoing military conflict in Afghanistan. Every one of those issues is a front burner if not boiling hot issue, whereas homeland security is truly at the back of the stove, set somewhere between warm and room temperature.

As anyone experienced in homeland issues knows, the temperature and boiling conditions of the homeland pot can change in a microsecond. Everything can be calm when without warning Mother Nature, an act of terror, an infrastructure failure or something truly out of the blue can unleash fury and cause fatalities. Anyone who lived on the East Coast almost 11 years ago easily remembers how a gorgeous, clear-skied Tuesday morning in September in an instant went to shrieking hell.

There is much to credit in the federal, state, local, private sector, and citizen investments, personnel and structures in our national preparedness for improving our country’s homeland posture. Unfortunately there are also factors of apathy at play, since people don’t feel as threatened as they did years ago.

No more does the lingering voice of Osama Bin Laden come to mind to send chills of concern down the American spine as it did in the 2004 campaign. Following the 2004 presidential race, Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., credited Bin Laden’s Oct. 29, 2004 video address as probably playing more to favor his opponent, President George W. Bush, driving voters who had been on the fence back to a guy who openly proclaimed, he wanted Bin Laden, “dead or alive.”

Bin Laden did not have nearly as big a presence in the 2008 presidential campaign, and thanks to President Obama’s order and the efficiency of SEAL Team operatives crossing into Pakistan on May 2, 2011, his voice is forever silenced. Even if there are a few tapes of him lying around a cave somewhere, his voice will be ignored.

Despite some verbal slings and posturing by both Obama and Romney around the time of the one year anniversary of Bin Laden’s demise, talk of al Qaeda by either candidate is negligible. Any other video, digital or audio pronouncements by what is left of the terror groups’ leadership would seem to be greeted by a collective shoulder shrug and a response of “who?” by the general public. I guess that’s what happens when the president has access to and uses a drone fleet that has efficiently and effectively vaporized one al Qaeda leader after another. Aside from the tenured leadership of longtime al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, longevity (and retirement planning) in the terror group is not promising.

In considering all of these factors, it’s amazing how far we’ve come from the September 11 attacks but also how lulled and complacent we can easily become when we don’t live in constant fear. With any luck, the horrors and fears we’ve had in the past will remain far away from us, but asking the candidates about these issues should never be far from our minds, even if the issues are not front and center.


Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...