Obama should commemorate, and celebrate

Updated
President Obama high-fives a soldier in Afghanistan yesterday.
President Obama high-fives a soldier in Afghanistan yesterday.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Osama bin Laden wasn’t killed in a video game, where decisions can be reversed with the simple pressing of a reset button, and no one’s life is actually at stake. The SEAL operation that killed the terrorist leader required serious decisions, and real risk, as President Obama and others explain in the Rock Center with Brian Williams special, “Inside the Situation Room,” airing tonight on NBC.

Yet, Republicans are saying that President Obama shouldn’t talk about what he calls “the most important single day of my presidency.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his party would be reticent about commemorating the anniversary of President Obama giving the go-ahead that eventually killed bin Laden. It is an election year, and while they don’t merit a free pass just because it’s expected, of course they’ll decry the recent Obama campaign ad (below) that seeks to remind voters of what the President did.

Romney first tried to criticize the decision itself, saying “even Jimmy Carter would’ve given that order.” That was already a silly thing to say; in a sports paradigm, Romney is the fan yelling from the stands to go for on fourth-and-35, and President Obama is Bill Belichick on the sidelines. But that talking point really blew up in Romney’s face when folks like the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent and others reminded us that once upon a time, Carter did give a similar order.

After that, Romney went more subtle, going to a New York firehouse with Rudy Giuliani on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death to then talk about the President. Mr. “Noun, Verb, and 9/11,” who offered this:

“If you want to take credit for [killing bin Laden], I have no problem with that at all,” the former New York City mayor said. “I wish he wouldn’t use it as a source of negative campaigning. I think that’s a big mistake.”

It’s not hard to remember how that is in stark contrast not only to how Giuliani has comported himself in public since 9/11 – Frank Rich handles that nonsense very well in his first response here – but also it contrasts with President Obama’s predecessor’s reaction to being asked about killing bin Laden less than a week after the attacks. From bin Laden’s New York Times obituary, published one year ago today:

“Do you want Bin Laden dead?” a reporter asked President George W. Bush six days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I want him — I want justice,” the president answered. “And there’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ ”

Cowboy justice has been the Republican brand ever since (and arguably, even well beforehand). As The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan put it, “If Bush had done it, he would have jumped out of a helicopter in a jump-suit with fireworks.” (The Daily Show did us the favor of imagining the Bush campaign ad if he’d done what President Obama did.) That they’re acting this sensitively either tells us that they’re painted into a corner on this issue, or that they’ve gone soft. Either way, it doesn’t seem like President Obama gives a damn:

Obama’s aides say the president isn’t spiking the ball — and he acknowledges the difficult and unpredictable road ahead in Afghanistan. But they don’t deny ramming the ball down the GOP’s throat after watching [George W.] Bush and his surrogates paint [John] Kerry, a Vietnam War hero, as a weakling unwilling to face global terrorism in Iraq.

Is Obama’s foreign policy perfect? Hardly. But Osama bin Laden is dead – and whether or not you think it’s tasteful to do so, the President is well within his rights to remind voters of it.

Obama should commemorate, and celebrate

Updated