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The national security double standard

From NBC's Mark Murray
Huffington Post and Politico have both noted that it took George W. Bush -- then on vacation -- six days to respond to shoe-bomber Richard Reid's failed attack back in 2001. 

But that incident didn't turn into a partisan food fight -- unlike what has erupted over President Obama's response to the Christmas Day failed plot.

Why the double standard? Here's one explanation: Democrats back in 2001, then out of power, chose not make it an issue the way that Republicans have now.

Indeed, looking back at 20th century -- the GOP charges after the Yalta conference, Nixon and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the accusations that Democrats "lost" China, Joe McCarthy -- historians note that Republicans have been much more willing than their Democratic counterparts to play the national security card to score political points, especially when out of power.

"It has worked very well for them," presidential historian Robert Dallek tells First Read. "It is a talking point that has helped them win elections and hold off the Democrats… There is a long history going back here."

To be sure, Democrats have participated in demagoguery, too. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of politicizing national security for placing a hold on Obama's pick to head the Transportation Security Administration. And Democrats have demagogued domestic programs like Social Security and Medicare for partisan advantage.

But on matters of national security, Republicans are more likely to accuse the opposition of weakness and cowardice -- whether or not the charge is justified. And it has worked for them.

*** UPDATE *** Via email, Berkeley political science professor Eric Schickler adds some important nuance. "As late as the 1950s, Democrats were pretty aggressive about capitalizing on such events -- a great example is how hawkish Democratic senators went after Ike following Sputnik, as showing we were losing the technology race to the USSR. Kennedy and a bunch of other senators argued the GOP had failed to fund defense (note Kennedy campaigned on a so-called missile gap in 1960) and science/technology. So both sides used to "play politics" with defense "crises" back then. I think it is more of a post-Vietnam phenomenon where the GOP is much more likely to take up the issue than Democrats."

More: After Vietnam, the GOP became clearly identified as the more hawkish, pro-military, "tough" party, and Democrats gained a reputation as more into diplomacy, etc. In political science terms, the GOP "owned" the issue of defense/militarism (just as Democrats "owned" Social Security). They were identified with the side that tends to win in public relations fights over the issue (seen as more competent, committed on the issue). So Democrats shied away from attacks after events such as Richard Reid, just as GOPers are ready to pounce."

*** UPDATE II *** Columbia historian Alan Brinkley also weighs in via email: "There is a long, long history of Republicans attacking Democrats on national security -- beginning ... with Yalta and has never stopped. The Democrats have never developed a similar critique of Republican national security. This has been a consistent Democratic problem, and now is certainly no exception."