Lamont's Anti-War Win, Terror and Politics

Slate chief political correspondent John Dickerson talks with Madeleine Brand about the top political stories of the week, including the primary victory of anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in Connecticut, and how the uncovering of an alleged terror plot targeting airlines has made the so-called war on terror a political issue again.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The White House says it will appeal a federal court decision on its warrantless wiretap program. A judge ruled yesterday that the National Security Agency program is unconstitutional.

Well, that's just one of the national security issues that may figure in congressional elections this fall. There is also last week's thwarting of an alleged terror plot in Britain, and of course there is the war in Iraq.

John Dickerson joins us now. He's chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate.

And John, any political implications in the court ruling yesterday?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Slate): Well, possibly. It's almost a two-fer for Republicans and for the administration. They can both rail against an activist judge, and they can also complain that this judge has gotten in the way of a very important tool in the war on terror.

And this particular tool is one that kind of links up with the broken up terror plot from last week, and the White House thinks that this is actually an argument that they are on the right side of and in a good place in terms of politics. They can talk about this ruling and how it's taking away one of the important tools in fighting the war on terrorism and that voters will be on their side.

BRAND: Well, usually this does work to the Republican's advantage, so did the disclosure of this terror plot last week, the one in England, did that help politically the president and the Republicans?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, so far, it looks like it may not have. The polling has been a little muddled and it's a little bit early, but there was a poll put out by Pew that suggests that basically while people are paying close attention to the terror plot and the fighting in Lebanon, that it really hasn't changed their view of terrorism or the president's approval ratings, that basically everything stayed flat.

And so the idea that increased fears would help the Republicans has not helped them, maybe in large part because the biggest problem for Republicans is the Iraq war and it's really hard to get around the daily stories coming out of Iraq.

BRAND: Well, how in general are the Republicans trying to use these issues to their advantage?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, Republicans seized on the terror plot and the Democratic primary in Connecticut and have made the case, essentially, that if you vote for Democrats more Americans will be killed.

Now that's a very blunt way of putting it, and of course Republican politicians don't put it that way, but essentially they do.

BRAND: Are Democrats responding in general defensively to these attacks or are they coming up with their own offensive arguments?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, the Democrats have a bit of a muddled response. On the one hand, they've said it's wrong for Republicans to try to scare voters. On the other hand, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee produced a Web ad in which they essentially asked if people felt safer after Republican control.

And Democrats are not really sure where they are on this position. And when they complain about Republicans politicizing questions of national security, it gives Republicans sort of a second bite at the apple. They come back and say, well, this is more proof that Democrats don't really understand what's at stake.

What the Pew poll shows us though is that voters seem to be more worried that Republicans, if they stay in control, will launch more military ventures than they are worried that Democrats, if they get control, won't keep them safe.

So at least as far as that polling goes, Americans seem to be siding with the Democrats.

BRAND: Well, in general, do Americans think Republicans or Democrats are better able to keep America safe? What's the answer there?

Mr. DICKERSON: The answer there is, by a slight margin in some polls Republicans are ahead. In some polls in the recent past, Democrats have actually inched ahead. It's sort of neck and neck.

But even being neck and neck is a huge win for Democrats because for so long Republicans have held a double digit lead in the polling on that question.

BRAND: John Dickerson is chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate. Thank you, John.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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