The fear campaign aimed at selling the Iraq war was timed precisely for the kickoff of the 2002 midterm election. The president's chief of staff explained the timing as a marketing decision. It was timed, Andrew Card said, for the post–Labor Day advertising period because that's when advertising campaigns for "new products," as he referred to it, are normally launched. The implication of his metaphor was that the old product -- the war against Osama bin Laden -- had lost some of its pizzazz. And in the immediate run-up to the election campaign of 2002, a new product -- the war against Iraq -- was being launched. For everything there is a season, particularly for the politics of fear.
The president went to war verbally against terrorists in virtually every campaign speech and fund-raising dinner for his political party. It was his main political theme. Democratic candidates like Senator Max Cleland in Georgia, a triple-amputee Vietnam vet, were labeled unpatriotic for voting counter to the White House's wishes on obscure amendments to the homeland security bill.
And when Tom DeLay, the former Republican leader in the House of Representatives, was embroiled in an effort to pick up more congressional seats in Texas by forcing a highly unusual redistricting vote in the state senate, he was able to track down Democratic legislators who fled the state to prevent a quorum -- and thus prevent the vote -- by enlisting the help of President Bush's new Department of Homeland Security. As many as thirteen employees of the Federal Aviation Administration conducted an eight-hour search, joined by at least one FBI agent (though several other agents who were asked to help refused to do so). DeLay was admonished by the House Ethics Committee but refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing.
By locating the Democrats quickly with the technology put in place for tracking terrorists, the Republicans were able to succeed in focusing public pressure on the weakest of the senators and forced passage of their new political redistricting plan. Thanks in part to the efforts of three different federal agencies, Bush and DeLay were able to celebrate the gain of up to seven new Republican congressional seats. This persistent effort to politicize the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism for partisan advantage is obviously harmful to the prospects for bipartisan support of the nation's security policies.
By sharp contrast, consider the different approach that was taken by Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the terrible days of October 1943 when, in the midst of World War II, he faced a controversy with the potential to divide his bipartisan coalition. He said, What holds us together is the prosecution of the war. No .... man has been asked to give up his convictions. That would be indecent and improper. We are held together by something outside, which rivets our attention. The principle that we work on is, "Everything for the war, whether controversial or not, and nothing controversial that is not bona fide for the war." That is our position. We must also be careful that a pretext is not made of war needs to introduce far-reaching social or political changes by a side wind.