Jonah Goldberg

"People talk about the potency of the health-care issue," Brown's political strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, told National Review, "but from our own internal polling, the more potent issue here in Massachusetts was terrorism and the treatment of enemy combatants."

Indeed, after years of debate over the tactic, a Rasmussen poll found that 58 percent of Americans favored waterboarding Abdulmutallab to get intelligence.

Of course, if the Obama administration's reluctance to treat terrorists like enemies is derived entirely from deep-seated ideological principle, then it should stick to its guns. But couldn't some of the reluctance be a holdover from the politics of the George W. Bush years? The Democrats came into power believing that downplaying and downgrading the war on terror was both right and politically smart. The former is debatable, the latter unsupportable.

Overseas, Obama doubled down in Afghanistan and has lobbed more Predator drones at al-Qaida than Bush did. His base didn't like it, but it was nonetheless both right and politically shrewd. The White House insists that it is not ideological but pragmatic, and yet it clings to an ideological nostrum that hawkishness on terrorism is not only atavistic but at odds with a progressive agenda at home.

The British empire destroyed Thuggee terrorism in India in the 1830s. (The Thuggees may have killed 1 million people.) But the war on Thuggeeism hardly dominated British politics. Bill Clinton initiated "extraordinary rendition" without any serious political blowback or distraction (in part because it was largely kept secret). LBJ's Great Society and civil rights victories coincided with escalation in Vietnam. And let us not forget that domestic spending skyrocketed under Bush even as he prosecuted the war on terror.

Question: Would Obama's domestic prospects look better or worse right now if he'd correctly treated the Fort Hood and Christmas Day attacks as terrorism from the outset?

Purely partisan conservatives should hope that Obama continues to see the war on terror through the same lens he's used for the last year. But it would be better for America -- and Obama -- if he saw the light.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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