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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bomb Adds Fear Element To U.S. Vote

With less than 100 days to go before the November presidential elections, everything that happens in the United States is now intensely political. The opinion polls seem locked on a 20-point lead and a Clinton landslide, so both sides have for weeks been nervously watching for a miracle.


Maybe, just maybe. In the pipe bomb that shredded the Olympic rows in Atlanta's Centennial Park, they got one.


The Democrats have dreaded, and the Republicans craved, some great unforeseen event that shocks a prosperous superpower out of economic complacency and strikes fear into the voters' hearts. What the Bob Dole camp has in mind is the kind of fear that drives people away from the palpably impotent Clinton, and back to the comforting maturity of a 73-year old war veteran, a sheltering patriarch in a dangerous world.


All the preconditions are there. For the United States, the Clinton adminstration has been the era of terrorism. This has been the year of the arrest of the Unabomber, and the year that hopes of grand peace treaties were exploded in Israel and in Northern Ireland. This has been the year that saw 19 U.S. servicemen blown up in their barracks in Saudi Arabia, and another 230 die this month aboard TWA 800, more presumed victims of terrorism.


And now the ultimate insult, a bomb at the most public event in the world, despite the boasts that Atlanta had been made the most secure place in the world.


Short of the outbreak of some major war, no combination of events could be more conducive to the making of a national security election. There have been relatively few of them. There were 1916 and 1940, elections on the eve of American participation in a world war. Each election returned Democrats who promised -- in vain -- to keep the country out of it.


But in the latter half of this century, national security elections have invariably veturned`Republicans to the White House. There was the Korean war election of 1952, the Vietnam war elections of 1968 and 1972, and the Reagan victory of 1980, after the Soviet march into Afghanistan and the humiliating seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.


But there is another precedent that inspires the White House. In April 1995, the Republicans dominated Congress. Clinton was at his lowest ebb in the opinion polls, and his party in Congress was demoralized and mutinous. Then came the blast at Oklahoma City, the slow and devastating realization that this was not the work of some Jihad-crazed Moslem terrorist, but an own goal scored by home-grown nuts, Americans up in arms against their own elected government.


The event which really helped Clinton was the memorial service in Oklahoma. For perhaps the first time in his career, he looked and sounded and acted presidential. He became not just the channel for the nation's grief, but its leader in mourning.


Can Clinton pull it off again? The political fallout now hinges on whether anybody is caught and charged, on Dole's skill in exploiting fear, and on Clinton's ability to inspire his countrymen to rally in defiance of terror.


Perhaps most of all, it will depend on whether this quickening drumbeat of bombs slackens or intensifies over the next 100 days before the election.