We ought to keep in mind that we’re seeing something new—something that no one has ever seen before. Barack Obama has a record to run on. In every election campaign he has ever waged to this date, he essentially was running on his personality, on his perceived identity, and on whatever voters might project upon the canvas he provided. Whatever ideological signals his record as a legislator might have offered in past elections, he went out of his way to blur them with soaringly dull speeches and inspiringly vague rhetoric. Sure: there were those savvy voters out there who knew where he was really coming from and what it meant for how he would govern, but he won election—in particular he won election as president—by winning over those who either lack the time or motivation to comprehend serious ideological agendas. (We sometimes call them “independents.”) They look for pragmatism, and Obama projected it in his soaringly dull manner. In the absence of an easily-quantifiable record of doing anything at all, and in the special circumstances of 2008, it was just enough to win. But now it’s different.
So watch closely, because this is how Barack Obama runs when he actually has a record. His problem is a thorny one. On economic issues—where voters expected pragmatic and sensible progress—his record is one of ever-expanding disaster, as a result of his single-minded pursuit of a pronounced ideological agenda. His central achievement, and the focus of by far his greatest energy, was a “reform” of the entire U.S. health-care system which was opposed by a plurality of U.S. voters before it was enacted and is opposed by an even greater number today. In terms of the general economic health of the nation: Although we are told the U.S. is not technically in recession, most Americans feel that it has been ever since 2008 (for very good reason) and with this crisis as an excuse the Obama administration has added five trillion dollars to the national debt with nothing to show for it save an extraordinarily flourishing subset of the population situated around Washington D.C. You don’t have to be a knuckle-dragging right-wing ideologue any longer to see that this kind of thing might be slightly problematic (and not really so pragmatic, after all).
So, we’ve seen, over the course of the last few days, how Barack Obama has sought to fluff up the one achievement under his watch that seems inarguably a good one: the elimination of Osama bin Laden one year ago. For those who would criticize the president for “spiking the football” and for excessive and unseemly stagecraft in his trip to Afghanistan for a ten-minute speech to the American people, I say: Cut him a break. What else do you expect the poor guy to do? This is the only positive achievement he has on which to run. So, he went to Kabul at great expense and great security-hoopla to sign an agreement that changes nothing from the day before it was signed, merely agreeing to make the real decisions later. It happened to be the day before the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. And he has been publicly crowing about the success of that mission to kill bin Laden, including in a campaign ad. Further, he’s been publicly questioning whether his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, would have made the same call to get OBL. Many are outraged over this pattern of behavior—over this naked politicizing of an issue of national security and of an achievement that, in the end, is thanks to the diligence and bravery of members of the U.S. military and of the intelligence services.
I say: Save the outrage. As far as the Barack Obama re-election campaign goes, this is as good as it gets. This is the height of high-principle and magnanimity. This is the only thing with which he has been involved as president which he can hold up for general approval.
And when it comes to the negative shot at Mitt Romney for allegedly and hypothetically being unwilling to make the same call that Barack Obama made vis-a-vis Osama bin Laden: you ain’t seen nothing yet. Barack Obama is the weakest incumbent president in living memory, and his campaign will be one of unrelenting negativity against his opponent, because the only thing that could possibly get this president re-elected is some kind of crazy blind terror regarding the alternative. He knows it. This whole celebration of the killing of Osama bin Laden has been the nice part of the campaign.
From here on out, it’s murder.