The Romney campaign committed a huge error when it attacked the Obama administration as “weak” in the wake of the killing of four Americans, including our ambassador, Christopher Stevens, in Libya. But the biggest error Romney made wasn’t an error of fact (although it was, indeed, a factually challenged statement).
The biggest error was a tactical one: attacking the commander-in-chief in the wake of a tragedy for our nation. When we are attacked, most Americans rally around the president, whomever that may be. It happened after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It is generally expected, at such a time, that politicians on either side of the aisle will refrain from attacking or blaming the leader of the nation. If the Democrats had attacked George W. Bush in 2001 for being caught flatfooted on 9-11, they almost certainly would have paid a horrendous political price.
While it remains to be seen how the public will react to this knee-jerk reaction by the Romney team, one thing looks crystal clear: the Romney attacks on this issue appear to be out of sheer desperation. The polling data has been breaking in President Obama’s favor ever since the Democratic National Convention kicked off in Charlotte nearly two weeks ago, and none of the Romney attacks seem to be taking hold.
When it became clear that the struggling economy alone would not get Romney over the top, the Romney campaign began throwing everything it could at the wall and praying that something, anything, would stick. The result has been a disjointed, unfocused, scattershot approach that has not helped Romney move the needle at all. Unless you count moving the needle in the wrong direction, that is.
As each new attack fails, the Romney campaign has placed itself on a hair-trigger setting to jump on every opening that appears like an opportunity to hurt the president politically. The attack in Libya and the unrest in the Muslim world over the ridiculous anti-Islam movie produced by some whackadoodle religious nut gave the Romney team another perceived opening to return to a favorite Republican attack line: that the Democrats are “weak” on foreign policy.
The Republicans have trotted this tired old meme out in every election for nearly 40 years, and they have grown accustomed to this ridiculous attack bearing political fruit. Their messaging on this issue had been so effective that, after 9-11, I heard even Democrats expressing gratitude that we had a Republican in the White House at that moment. (For the record, I was not one of them.)
So they’re trotting out the “Democrats are weak, weak, weak” line because it’s always been their go-to attack line in the past. But there’s a problem: it’s not working anymore.
The Romney campaign has found a lot of things to lie about this election year, and some of those lies have been fairly effective. Team Romney has run advertising claiming that the president robbed Medicare of $700 billion to pay for Obamacare, and that he took the work requirement out of welfare. These ads were nearly as effective as they were false. Romney’s polling improved after launching both of these attacks, even though they were roundly attacked by the news media as completely and provably false. But when it comes to these issues, as well as the ridiculous lies about health care bill (death panels, anyone?), they are so complex and murky that few average Americans even really know the truth. (Even some of the members of Congress who voted for the health care bill didn’t know what was in the thing.) As a result, a lot of average Americans—having no clear and easy proof that these claims are untrue—are susceptible to the lies.
The problem, conversely, with the “Democrats are weak” argument is simple. It’s a hard argument to sell when it is widely known that the Democratic president ordered in the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden. This would be the same bin Laden, as is also widely known, who eluded President Obama’s Republican predecessor for nearly eight years.
Yes, I know that the right goes apoplectic anytime anyone says “Obama Got Osama,” but it is a fact. He who makes the call gets the credit, as inevitably would have happened had President Bush succeeded in getting bin Laden. The SEAL team went in on the president’s orders, as a result of the intelligence that the president’s team gathered. The SEALs could not have carried out the operation without the president’s order. It was a highly risky operation that included violating the sovereignty of a supposed U.S. ally, Pakistan, and if it had failed, does anyone doubt that it would have destroyed Obama politically? (I think it is clear that same people who refuse to give him any credit for the mission’s success would not have waited half a second to blame him if it had failed.)
To order the mission, against the advice of his own vice president and some other key advisers, took real guts on the president’s part (and of course, it must be said, spectacular courage and great work by the SEALs, who obviously bore far greater risk than the commander-in-chief did).
The mission that killed bin Laden is emblematic of the calm, cool and effective overseas policies of the president. Does anyone remember how he sent in special forces, early in his term, to kill the Somali pirates who had hijacked an American vessel? Or how our quiet leadership in the Libyan civil war resulted in the overthrow of longtime terrorist supporter Moammar Qaddafi?
These three missions all had two very important things in common: 1) they all succeeded and 2) not a single American lost his or her life as a result of any of these operations. If these are the results of a president’s supposed weakness in his usage of American military might, what exactly does it take to be considered strong?
The fact is, the Obama approach to foreign policy and his wise usage of our military—pinpointed, targeted special forces strikes as opposed to massive, scattershot overreactions with heavy losses of life—demonstrates that a cool hand is more effective than a hot head. And people generally know the difference. A measured (one might even call it “conservative”) approach that accomplishes the mission and prevents needless deaths is the smart move. It might not be very satisfying to those who want to go in with guns blazing to make a point. But it’s safe to say that the SEAL team mission to Pakistan made a much greater—and certainly more final—impression on Osama bin Laden than our invasion of Iraq did.
You know, I found it really amusing that the Republicans turned to Clint Eastwood at their recent convention in Tampa. While Clint has always been a tremendous actor and now a spectacular director, the fact is that the composed, cool and deadly upholder of justice he played in the Dirty Harry movies was just a role.
If you want to see a real-life Dirty Harry—the clear-headed enforcer who tracks down the bad guys and ensures they get what’s coming to them—you can find him most days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
People know the difference between an act and the real thing. Our president, Barack Obama, may be many things, but he is clearly not weak. His results speak for themselves. You could even say he’s got more Clint Eastwood in him than Clint himself.
So, Governor Romney, you’ve got to ask yourself one question:
“Do I feel lucky?”
Well, do ya, punk?