Creating fear among a civilian population is a terrorist's tool. Then why, in their contest to lead the US against Islamic radicals who use terror, are the two presidential campaigns trying to scare American voters about their opponents' ability to fight terrorism?
The latest and perhaps worst example of this fear-mongering was Vice President Dick Cheney's comment Tuesday that voters "make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating."
This prediction that a Kerry presidency would bring on another 9/11 is a crude appeal to raw emotion, and an unnecessary distraction from a more reasoned campaign debate about the different tactics to safeguard America.
Mr. Cheney's Kerry-as-bogeyman comments didn't come out of the blue. The presidential campaign has been slowly building up to this kind of be very afraid rhetoric.
Both John Kerry and George Bush have said they can better conduct the antiterror campaign. Fair enough. Both claim superior character to lead that fight. OK. But then they degrade each other's character. From there, it's a slippery slope to redirecting voters' fear of Al Qaeda into a fear of the other guy.
To be sure, Mr. Kerry has made his share of alarming statements.
He has said, "The world is more dangerous because of the way the administration has handled the [Iraq] war." And he warns that Mr. Bush's policies are "actually encouraging the recruitment of terrorists." It's difficult to back up those claims, just as it's difficult for Cheney to support his warning about Kerry.
And in a debate in Congress over implementing recommendations of the 9/11 commission, Democrats are poised to pounce on Republicans as endangering security if all the recommendations aren't implemented before the election.
If the campaign against Al Qaeda is really a war for liberty, then both Democrats and Republicans must work to liberate Americans from the very fear that Al Qaeda seeks. By adding to those fears, the candidates only play the terrorists' game.
As Sen. John McCain warned at last month's Republican convention, partisan scare tactics should not rip apart national unity. "Let us argue our differences," he said to both parties, but "remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy."