Sunday, September 10, 2006

Will ABC's "Path to 9/11" Have any Political Effect?

The answer to this pressing question is...maybe. With the ABC miniseries under fire from Democrats and former Clinton officials over the now well-known inaccuracies present in the TV special, and with Republicans praising the docu-drama and bashing the Dems over their criticisms, one would think that the voting public would pay attention to the row and that it would influence their vote in November. The show does, after all, seem to fit right into the GOP's argument for staying in power in November: we can protect you - Democrats cannot. Combine that pitch with the close proximity to both the 9/11 anniversary and the November election, and you appear to get a perfect situation for GOPers desperately trying to focus attention away from Iraq and onto the war on terror/9/11.

Why, then, does PB think that it's a tossup whether or not the miniseries will have any impact in November? Many reasons come to mind. First, ABC may not even air the second installment of the series on Monday night, as Pres. Bush is set to give a 9/11 anniversary primetime speech at the same hour; 9 PM. Tonight's NFL game on NBC may also squash the viewership of the first installment of "PT9/11". But, more importantly, will anyone really care? And, if they do, will that outrage at Clinton and the Dems last until November? Other factors involved in the election - such as Iraq , the economy, or gas prices - may heat up before then, wiping terrorism off of the collective radars of voters. Some recent analysis even shows that the GOP is actually losing ground on the issue of national security.

The White House strategy isn't subtle. With Republicans worried about losing the House and conceivably even the Senate in November, the President is taking a big gamble that an unflinching focus on national security will be his party's political salvation. That approach helped Bush defy history in 2002 when the Republicans, the party in power, avoided midterm losses. Two years later, his re-election rode largely on reminding Americans that they were a nation at war. But will the gambit work one more time? Many Republicans harbor doubts, and a few dissenters are even steering clear of the President and his game plan. One problem with rerunning an old play is that the opposition figures out how to thwart it. Democrats, having largely steered clear of national-security issues in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns for fear their war reservations and civil-liberties concerns would brand them as effete, are embracing the topic, and they appear to have found their voice with a steady insistence that Iraq has been mishandled. Thus, for the first time in the five years since 9/11, national security is a jump ball.

If "PT9/11" comes across as nothing more than a GOP attack ad, any voters watching may see it as Republican desperation to focus attention on terrorism and the way the bumbling Dems supposedly handled Osama and Co. No doubt that result will lead to a backlash and certain defeat for GOPers in November.

Prediction: What effect will "PT9/11" really have? Not much. Most viewers will probably have heard about the controversy surrounding the show, and will be aware that it will probably be one-sided. If it came out with no attention and no controversy, minds may have been changed. Any Dem criticism after it aired would have been seen as weak and childish - meaning a big boost for the GOP. Now, people will simply tune in out of curiosity, watching to see who plays Madeline Albright. Oh, and counting how many times the Clinton Admin. gets bashed.


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