Bombings change the game

Since 2007, America has been mired in a financial quagmire. Austerity has functioned like a black hole, sucking every other issue into its dark recesses, allowing little or no light to shine on non-financial issues. That all changed Monday afternoon in Boston.

Now, issue-based discussions, whether partisan debates on the floor of Congress or the private ruminations that occur in voters’ heads on a daily basis, must expand beyond financial considerations to also reflect on security and safety. I predict that the Boston bombings, closely following the Aurora and Newtown shootings, are a game-changer. While we are a resilient people with a collective attention deficit disorder that might cause us to put Boston’s events specifically behind us more quickly than we should, I believe that in the days ahead we are going to hear some discomforting news about the many other investigations of potential terrorists living among us, all across the nation. This is going to heighten security concerns and distract us from our societal obsession with recession.

I am not saying that concerns about personal safety will trump economic worries, but they will become a much bigger consideration. In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow posited his well-known hierarchy of human needs, placing both economic and personal security in the same “safety” tier of human needs, between physiological needs like food and emotional needs like love and belonging. At times in the past, to obtain personal economic security, workers might have risked their personal safety by working dangerous jobs; this might still occur sometimes, but because of the numerous workplace safeguards in effect today, even workers like miners or heavy equipment operators are relatively safe. You can make money and not risk losing life or limb. The greatest threat of chasing the dollar today is probably stress and loss of sleep. Seldom do we have to accept financial hardship just to preserve personal safety. Soon we may have to think harder about these trade-offs.

Some effects will occur almost immediately. The big push for immigration reform, set to launch this week, could be stillborn, as it is inexorably related to economic worries. The high-tech crowd is clamoring for reforms that allow more work visas for engineers. Farmers and agribusinesses need greater assurances that their temporary workforces will be there when needed. The construction and restaurant industries want assurances for their enterprises that employ immigrant labor. Hospitals want a better system for reimbursement of their expenses providing the emergency room care that people in the country illegally are prone to require. Sure, there are some human rights and partisan political objectives fueling proposed changes in immigration policies, but to be sure, economics are the driving force.

The Saudi national that was an early “person of interest” in the Boston bombings is reportedly here on a student visa. Many of the 9/11 perpetrators were here on student and other visitor visas. This student visa system is still largely out of control, rife with fraud and abuse and sorely in need of additional oversight. The Boston bombings could force an overhaul of student visas to get the rest of the immigration reform enacted; that will take some time that the economy doesn’t necessarily want us to take. But security concerns will slow things down.

I expect that we’ll see a lot of other political impacts as well, reminiscent of post-9/11 developments. For example, more former military personnel will file their candidacies for public offices, and voters will welcome them. Even local officials will propose new city, county and state security initiatives as more nascent terror cells are ferreted out in the wake of the Boston bombings. It’s going to take quite a few news cycles to get beyond this past Monday.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.