If you want to watch someone squirm, take a look at the two-minute videotape of Attorney General Eric Holder dodging Republican Rep. Lamar Smith's question whether "radical Islam" motivated the Times Square bomber.
Holder, who last year called America "a nation of cowards" for refusing to talk frankly about race, plainly didn't want to say what is plain to everyone else, that Faisal Shahzad, back from five months in Waziristan, launched his terror attack because of his Islamist beliefs.
Holder is not the only one who wants to shield us from this obvious truth. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, questioned about the bomber's motives, said he might have been acting out of opposition to the health care bill. Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein said he might have become unhinged by the foreclosure of his Connecticut home.
Similar dignitaries have advanced similar theories. The Christmas underwear bomber, Barack Obama initially said, was an otherwise unspecified "isolated extremist." Fort Hood killer Nidal Hasan, we were told by journalists, may have been a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder--although he never saw combat. Back in the Bush years we were told that the gunman who started shooting at the El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport had just chosen his target at random, and the New York Times found nothing significant when the Mumbai killers targeted a Jewish community center.
Why the reluctance to state the obvious truth, that we are under attack from terrorists motivated by a radical form of Islam?
My theory is that these well-intentioned folk see the American people as a howling mob. They think that if Americans find out that Islamists are attacking us, they will go out and slaughter innocent Muslims. They think that Americans are incapable of understanding the simple truth that while most terrorists are Islamists, the large majority of Muslims are not terrorists.
Of course the evidence is that Americans are quite capable of holding these two ideas in their heads. Even after September 11 there were only a minuscule number of attacks on Muslims, and many more Americans went over to their Muslim neighbors and offered to help if they had any trouble. They didn't even need to hear the almost instant assurances from Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush that all Muslims were not terrorists to bake a cake and bring it over.
The howling mob theory explains a lot of otherwise puzzling things. It helps to explain why Janet Napolitano's Homeland Security Department, tasked with finding possible terrorists, set about tracking disgruntled military veterans and gun owners. Just the kind of people who turn into a howling mob!
It helps to explain journalists' desperate search for racist epithets at Tea Party gatherings--and their lack of interest in the actual violence that has been common at rallies against the Arizona immigration law and antiwar marches. It helps to explain the Justice Department's decision to drop the case against the New Black Panthers who were violently intimidating voters in Philadelphia on Election Day.
It helps to explain why Solicitor General Elena Kagan was willing to work in the Clinton White House after Bill Clinton signed the law banning open gays in the military--a law Kagan has said she detests. Hey, he was just trying to propitiate the howling mob.
It should go without saying that it's ridiculous to believe, as many liberals do, that just about everyone west of Manhattan and east of Hollywood likes to go around wearing white sheets. On a novel issue like gays in the military, many Americans have been moving away from Clinton's 1990s position and toward Kagan's, even while they move away from her views on other issues like abortion.
As it became obvious that the Democrats' health care bills and the Obama big government programs were opposed by most Americans, some liberals resorted to a variant of the howling mob theory: Americans were against these programs because they didn't like having a black president. This despite the fact that Obama was elected by the largest percentage margin in the last 20 years.
When you see a smart man like Holder saying stupid things you know something else is going on. You're seeing a high official who regards most of us as cowards, who believes the truth could make us a howling mob. Does Obama feel the same way?
Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI.