First, a personal note. My son was born less than a month after 9/11, on the day that American forces first entered Afghanistan. While my wife was in labor, in a hospital barely two miles from ground zero, a nurse rushed into the room and inconsiderately shouted, “we’re bombing Afghanistan.” Footage of the nascent military conflict and of George W. Bush addressing the nation aired on all the TVs in the hallways of the hospital, and everyone was still intensely on edge.
Yesterday, my wife gave birth to our second child, a baby girl with curly black hair and pink skin. And in an amazing coincidence, it happened on the same day that an order given by President Obama resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden, accomplishing one of the principle goals of the original entry into Afghanistan.
I’m mentioning this not only to announce the arrival of my new daughter, but also because for me it captures what a long, strange trip this has all been — personally and politically.
In a sense, it’s fitting that Bin Laden was killed at a time when the questioning of Obama’s American-ness had reached its apex, or if you prefer, its nadir. Last week, Obama was forced to release his long-form birth certificate in order to quiet the claim — one tacitly or overtly fed by leading conservatives, Republicans and right-leaning media outlets — that Obama wasn't really born in America.
Birtherism, of course, is only one strand in a larger narrative — including charges that Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, hates exercising American power, and embraces American decline — that’s designed to sow fears about the true nature of Obama’s real intentions towards our country. This narrative has at times even involved Osama himself — recall the use Osama, 9/11, and terrorism-related imagery to attack Obama, and the “jokes” conflating their names. Amazingly, all this reached its ultimate conclusion with the release of Obama’s long-form certificate, during the very same week when Obama was quite literally putting in place the final details of the plan that finally resulted in Osama’s death.
You couldn’t ask for a more perfect expression of how at odds with reality this storyline — and the media freak-show feeding it — are than that.
Obviously Obama still faces immense challenges that aren’t changed by bin Laden’s death, and in some ways, Obama has not broken with his predecessor’s national security approach. But the larger journey is still something to marvel at. The Sept. 11 attacks fundamentally transformed American politics. In the weeks, months and early years after Sept. 11, when fears of terrorism ran white hot and national security was widely seen as the linchpin of permanent GOP dominance, who would have thought that a black guy with a Muslim-sounding name would get elected over a Republican war hero while promising to restructure America’s relations with the rest of the world — and then go on to give the order to successfully kill the country’s number one terrorist foe, accomplishing one of America’s principal national security objectives?
From the vantage point of that hospital room in 2001, it would have seemed unthinkable. Yet here we are. The question now is whether the killing of bin Laden will fundamentally reshape what remains of the political landscape created by Sept. 11, by badly undermining the conservative narrative that Obama is weak, indecisive and insufficently committed to defending America, and by making those who question Obama’s intentions toward our country look ever smaller.
And with that, I’m taking a week off to get to know my new daughter. You will be in the very capable hands of Jonathan Bernstein, and I”ll try to check in from time to time.