Amid international crises stirring a deep unease in the American electorate, the Obama administration and the Republican Party are offering voters two starkly different viewpoints: Nothing to fear versus fear itself.
Terrorist attacks have a long history of pulling the United States together, with the President playing the dual role of comforter and commander in chief. The horrific attacks Friday on Paris, however, have led to a different result.
Time after time, the question was essentially the same: Why isn’t your strategy against the Islamic State working? And time after time, President Obama pushed back, trying to navigate a narrow path between expressing outrage at the “terrible and sickening” attacks in Paris and standing by an approach that he said would eventually succeed if given enough time.
For President Obama, the short-term response to the terrorist attacks in Paris was straightforward and relatively easy: The American military and intelligence agencies provided information to help French warplanes bomb Islamic State targets on Sunday in the group’s stronghold in northern Syria.
When the Islamic State stormed onto the scene in Syria and Iraq, it seemed focused on seizing territory in its own neighborhood. But in the last two weeks, the so-called soldiers of the caliphate appear to have demonstrated a chilling reach, with terrorist attacks against Russia, in Lebanon and now in Europe.
Coordinated shootings and bombings in Paris, Trump ups rhetoric against GOP rivals, the third GOP debate reveals divides within the party, and the second Democratic debate approaches with Hillary Clinton maintaining her lead.
For the first time in the four-year Syrian civil war, President Obama is beginning to execute a combined diplomatic and military approach to force President Bashar al-Assad to leave office and end the carnage.
When President Obama first won the White House, he recruited Ray LaHood, a Republican congressman, to join his cabinet. The appointment, Mr. Obama said, “reflects that bipartisan spirit” that would distinguish his presidency.
"There is nothing like a genuine crisis to put a political election in context. I do not have the answers, but the shocking Paris attacks have certainly given voters a reasonable list of questions to ask the 17 presidential candidates still eligible to return to debate stages in December."
Gwen Ifill is moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" and co-anchor and managing editor of the "PBS NewsHour." The best-selling author of "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama," Gwen has covered seven presidential campaigns and moderated two vice presidential debates.