In the first few years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, national security and terrorism dominated the national agenda, becoming one on the chief dividing lines in American politics.
Now, 11 years later, those issues have receded somewhat, as voters increasingly focus on the economy in the midst of historically high unemployment. Neither candidate is aggressively arguing they will keep the country safer than the other, as George W. Bush did in 2004, and the divide on the Iraq War was one of the biggest differences between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, but has been little mentioned in this campaign.
Both campaigns have pledged today, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks, to pay tribute to the victims and avoid explicitly partisan speeches.
To be sure, these issues have not totally disappeared from the political landscape. During this campaign, President Obama and his administration have highlighted last year’s killing of Osama Bin Laden, as well as Mitt Romney not mentioning the war in Afghanistan during his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination last month. Romney in turn has attacked the president for agreeing to a budget-cutting plan that would cut billions from defense spending.
But national security politics are much different than in the past. Because of his success in winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president is determined to talk about these issues and make them a part of the campaign, not showing the wariness around defense issues that other Democrats have. Unlike many past Republicans, Romney is not a war veteran and has limited experience in foreign policy, since much of his career was in business and then later state politics.