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The Fading Political Impact of 9/11

In the early stages of the 2004 election campaign I suggested that the Democrats would actually be better off if Iraq turned into a huge success. While this may seem counter-intuitive, the reason is that it would have served to dampen the impact of the strongest asset working in President Bush's favor, which was the post-9/11 world.

If there is a single factor that caused most analysts to misinterpret what would happen in the 2002 and 2004 elections, it was underestimating the effect of September 11th on American voters. To be clear, I am not suggesting that strategists and pundits weren't aware that 9/11 had changed the political playing field. Of course they were. But as much as you heard the line that "9/11 changed everything," few political analysts really understood just how much it changed the playing field.

The 2002 election came eight weeks after the 1-year anniversary of the 2001 attack, right in the middle of the build-up towards the spring 2003 offensive in Iraq. And 2004 was the first presidential election after 9/11; the more the Democrats and Kerry talked about Iraq and the war, the more they unwittingly played right into the President Bush's strength.

So here we are today nearing the summer of 2006, and each passing week and month causes the 9/11 effect to diminish. The pathetic hyperventilating over how we treat terrorists and the NSA efforts to prevent another attack are warning signs of the distance we continue to move from the nation's collective resolve the morning of September 11th.

Contributing to the slow backslide into a September 10th mentality is the incredible success of the Bush administration. Yes, you heard that right, the incredible success. At the end of the day, the two most important facts to the American people are security and economic growth. In the months following 9/11, with an economy already in the middle of a deflationary spiral brought on by the collapse of the NASDAQ 5000 bubble, if you would have told people that the country would pull out of its economic slide and experience the growth we have seen the last three years and we wouldn't be hit again by terrorists, most people wouldn't have thought it possible.

But this success, coupled with the passing of time, chips away at the political effect of 9/11. Robert Tracinski writes of President Bush's September 10 approval ratings in RealClearPolitics today and in many ways that is exactly what we are seeing politically. Obviously, there are other issues at work that are contributing to President Bush's woes and Republican angst - the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, the Harriet Miers fiasco, out of control spending and illegal immigration -- but in the broader sense, make no mistake about it, we are seeing a fading away of the 9/11 effect.

Of course this can change in a flash with the next successful attack, but if this trend continues it will have a major impact on the 2006 and 2008 elections -- and the consequences will not be favorable for Republicans.