Finally, Washington is displaying a rare outbreak of sanity on the subject of terrorism and refugees.
Since the Paris attacks, overwrought pandering and posturing have dominated the capital and the campaign trail. But now, both parties are focusing on what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, calls the "soft underbelly" of America's security system -- a waiver program that allows travelers from 38 countries to enter the U.S. without a visa.
Most of those countries are in Europe, and there's rising concern that bad guys holding passports from places like France or Belgium could utilize the process to sneak into this country and stage assaults. The heartening response: a bipartisan effort to tighten loopholes that terrorists might exploit.
The White House, for example, announced a series of measures this week that include increasing intelligence-sharing with countries in the program and forming "foreign fighter surge teams" to help those nations prevent terrorists from traveling to the U.S.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson said, "The visa waiver program is something that we've focused on, frankly, since I've been secretary, because there are a number of foreign terrorist fighters who have gone into Iraq and Syria from countries in Europe and elsewhere."
But the administration can only do so much through executive action. "There are ways that Congress can help us," said Johnson, and constructive legislators on both sides are trying to do that.
Feinstein has teamed with Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, to draft a bill barring anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria in the past five years from obtaining a visa waiver. Instead, they would have to submit to a personal interview before traveling here.
Rep. Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican, has a sensible proposal to suspend a country's participation in the program if it fails to share information about terrorist travels with American officials. Republican leaders promise a bill by the end of the year, and the key is finding a balance between competing goals: keeping out terrorists while facilitating the flow of tourists and business executives who contribute billions of dollars annually to the domestic economy.
As Frank Cilluffo, a security expert at George Washington University, told NPR: "We must be open to foreign travelers, we want to be open to foreign cultures, we want to be open for business. But the flip side is, we've got an acute security threat right now."
Jonathan Grella, executive vice president public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, offered good advice in the Washington Times: "We urge Congress to carefully consider how to tweak the (visa waiver program) to respond to the threat rather than in engaging in security theater. Keep calm, and then legislate."
But for many politicians, keeping calm and avoiding "security theater" is wildly out of character. Some Democrats, for example, want to saddle revisions of the visa program with a rider barring anybody on a terrorist watch list from buying a firearm.
As policy that certainly makes sense, but such a proposal would never pass a Republican-dominated Congress, and clearly qualifies as "security theater" -- a political gesture, not a serious possibility.
Republicans have been far worse in playing the theater game, pushing legislation through the House (with the help of 47 Democrats) that would halt the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq -- even though those refugees undergo intensive scrutiny lasting more than a year.
Some Republican candidates have favored the resettlement of Christian refugees while barring Muslims, a particularly mean-spirited idea. And Donald Trump, the king of fabrication and fear-mongering, has alleged that Obama really intends to import more than 200,000 refugees from the Middle East, not the 10,000 in the president's public proposal.
Obama correctly labels such xenophobia "shameful" and out of keeping with America's best values. On a trip to Malaysia, he met with a group of young refugees from Myanmar and said they "represent the opposite of terrorism."
"American leadership is us caring about people who have been forgotten, or have been discriminated against, or who have been tortured, or who have been subject to unspeakable violence, or who have been separated from families at very young ages," he said. "That's American leadership ... not when we respond on the basis of fear."
The world is a dangerous place, and America has many enemies dedicated to doing us harm. But we should respond by staying calm, avoiding theatrics and basing our policies on facts, not fear. A sensible update of the visa waiver program is a good start.