In 1938, Winston Churchill published "While England Slept," about Britain's failure to prepare for the Nazi threat.
Let's hope that, when the history of this moment is written, the 2015 State of the Union address will not be retold under the title "While America Slept."
Not since before the 2001 terrorist attacks has there been such a disconnect between the nation's focus and the condition of the world. As threats multiply in the Middle East and Europe, President Obama delivered on Tuesday night an annual message to Congress that was determinedly domestic. And his inward-looking gaze is shared by lawmakers and the public.
Thousands of foreign fighters have joined with Muslim extremists in Syria and Iraq, and their fanatical cause has inspired sympathizers across the globe: 17 killed by terrorists in Paris; terrorism raids and a shootout in Belgium; a hunt for sleeper cells across Europe; a gunman attacking the Canadian Parliament; an Ohio man arrested after buying guns and ammunition, allegedly with plans to attack the Capitol. Even Australia has raised its terrorist threat level.
And yet, when it comes to countering the terror threat in America, the State of the Union is nonchalant. "We are 15 years into this new century, 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores," Obama said at the start of his speech. "It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page."
Obama, full of swagger, turned the page several pages from the start of his address, when he assured Americans that "the shadow of crisis has passed," before arriving at his discussion of national security.
He went 32 minutes, more than halfway through his speech, before mentioning the "challenges beyond our shores." He said that "we stand united with people around the world who've been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris." But he dwelled on the topic only long enough to say he'd "continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks" and "keep our country safe while strengthening privacy."
The proposals were decidedly domestic: Increasing the capital-gains tax, boosting cybersecurity, encouraging paid family and sick leave, reviving free-trade deals, and expanding access to broadband and community college. The guests seated in the first lady's box for the speech underscored the domestic emphasis.
The response to Obama's address, delivered by new Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), gave terrorism no more prominence than Obama did.
Meanwhile, Republicans in both chambers are preparing for a showdown with Obama next month and a possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security as they attempt to de-fund his executive orders on immigration.
With national leaders averting their gaze from terrorism, only 2 percent of the American public says terrorism is the top problem facing the nation, according to a Gallup poll this month. That compares with 46 percent in October 2001, 19 percent in 2004, 8 percent in 2010 and 4?percent last year. Only 1 percent said the Islamic State is the top problem, and 2 percent cited national security generally vs. 3 in 10 who cited economic issues.