The war on terrorism is two wars, one for men and one for women. The guys' war is special forces on horseback, video-game bombing runs against comic-strip evildoers. It dominates the headlines and the federal budget. Women are not squeamish about the use of force--pollsters suggest they're more interested in the war on terrorism than in any other foreign policy issue in recent history--but they tend to have a different priority: protection of hearth and home against the next terrorist attack.
This concern is practical, defensive and not nearly so exciting as zapping an al-Qaeda leader with a Hellfire missile. It goes under the dreadful name of homeland security--and it has the further disadvantage of inducing feelings of utter helplessness. Guys don't do helplessness very well; they do action.
The latest upgrade to a "high" level of terrorism alert, announced after authorities picked up rising chatter about attacks against U.S. targets, had a certain inevitability. CIA Director George Tenet has been predicting, for months, a probable terrorist attack if we go to war with Iraq. Nearly half the American women polled in October by the Gallup Organization say they believe they or someone in their family will soon be victims of an attack (about a third of men do too). But polls don't convey the intensity of these fears. "When I was out campaigning last fall, this was all women wanted to talk about," says Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. "Not schools, not prescription drugs. It was 'What are you doing to protect my kids against terrorists?' Soccer moms are security moms now."
Democrats, in a typically garish display of ineptitude, allowed the issue to slip away in 2002. They blocked the Department of Homeland Security--which they had proposed in the first place--because the Republicans wanted to loosen union rules governing hiring and firing. Biden believes this stubbornness cut into his party's usual advantage with women and cost it the election. The Democrats, of course, succumbed immediately thereafter: the Department of Homeland Security was established. But not very much security has come of it. Indeed, Budget Director Mitchell Daniels blurted the real Bush strategy last week: "There is not enough money in the galaxy to protect ... every American against every conceivable threat that every hateful fanatic in the world might conjure up. So the real essence of homeland security is going to be, No. 1, go after terror where it lives."