U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington May 2, 2012 after a trip to Afghanistan.
Credits: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Even some of Barack Obama's friends are shaking their heads at the YouTube ad where Bill Clinton praises the president for going after Osama bin Laden, then a text box sneers: "Which path would Mitt Romney have chosen?" Liberal blogmaster and Obama supporter Arianna Huffington told CBS This Morning the ad was "despicable". Even worse politically, it's baffling.
It would be naive to object that Barack Obama promised to do politics differently. That's what they all say ... right before landing a typical partisan cheap shot.
It's also naive to complain that the ad politicizes national security. Politics never really did stop at the water's edge in America, except briefly in the early Cold War.
The most famous political commercial ever was Lyndon Johnson's 1964 "daisy" spot saying Republican Barry Goldwater would cause a nuclear war. Ronald Reagan's 1984 "bear in the woods" ad hurt Walter Mondale because many voters considered Democrats babes in the woods. And campaigning on military issues goes back to the birth of political parties, including the empty threat "54 40 or fight" on which the Democrats won in 1844, or the ludicrous "Rumsey Dumsey, Rumsey Dumsey, Col. Johnson killed Tecumseh" on which they lost in 1840.
The ad is nevertheless a crass blunder for two main reasons.
First, there has always been a taboo on bringing bring foreigners into America's quarrels or voicing your disagreements before foreign audiences. Obama has already trod on dangerous ground, grovelling rhetorically before foreign Muslims, and in one infamous case literally to the Saudi King, in deliberate contrast to his swaggering Republican predecessor. When bin Laden was killed he even warned his countrymen not to "spike the football" lest it inflame the ummah against infidels ... yet he just conspicuously spiked the football in the face of his domestic foes.
Second, the ad politicizes security in a tone-deaf way. Yes, Obama is regarded as weak on foreign policy, even by many Americans who prefer him to Romney on economics. But having bin Laden's head on his wall spoke for itself - until he started protesting too much. Besides, the ad runs counter to the standard Democratic script that Republicans are rich warmongers.
It distorts two things Romney did say in 2007, criticizing then-candidate Obama's statement that he'd attack targets inside Pakistan if necessary, and also warning: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." But Romney wasn't criticizing willingness to strike inside Pakistan, just willingness to embarrass a supposed ally by saying it out loud. And while he said he wanted bin Laden dead, the terrorist threat was bigger than any one man, and it was important to protect against the danger, not obsess on the symbol.
Twisting a man's words for political gain may be standard practice. But the problem in extrapolating from these quotations to the claim that, as president, Mitt Romney might have passed on a chance to nail bin Laden isn't that it's unfair or divisive. It's that it's baffling.
Romney brushed the ad aside with a disdainful comment that even Jimmy Carter would have ordered this operation. And he would. The only president with a problem here is Clinton who, admittedly before 9/11, turned down several opportunities to get bin Laden.
Bringing him in to boost your military cred is so weird it turns strength into weakness.
In today's digital era, it took mere days for a striking "Heroes don't seek credit" counter-ad to appear, starkly contrasting the selfless bravery of Navy SEALS with the president whose conceited account of the operation focused on ... himself. And skewering Slick Willy's line about Obama knowing if the operation went wrong and the SEALs "were captured or killed, the downside would have been horrible for him."
"Horrible for HIM?" the ad asks.
Well yes, from one narcissist to another. Normal voters would be thinking how horrible failure would have been for dead or tortured SEALs and a humiliated America.
Even many liberals find the ad despicable. And it will provoke people who already didn't support Obama to give time and money to defeat him. What was he thinking? Other than "me me me", I mean.
You're running on that?