Why Osama bin Laden is fair game for President Obama

at 07:06 AM ET, 05/01/2012

The one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden has occasioned a fierce political debate about the appropriateness of President Obama’s reelection campaign touting the death for their partisan benefit.

It shouldn’t. Here’s why.


In this May 1, 2011, image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to obscure the details of a document in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at right with hand covering mouth, President Barack Obama, second from left, Vice President Joe Biden, left, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, right, and members of the national security team watch an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/The White House, Pete Souza)
No matter what President Obama’s reelection campaign says, this election is almost certain to revolve around a simple question for most undecided voters: Did the president make enough right decisions in his first four years in office to deserve as a second term?

When it comes to the economy — as well as health care and the economic stimulus bill — the referendum nature of the 2012 election works against Obama, and Republicans gleefully paint those measures as signs of his failed leadership.

But, simply because the death of bin Laden bolsters Obama’s case for reelection doesn’t mean that it is out of bounds. What’s good for the political goose is good for the political gander.

In case you need a little more convincing, remember that President George W. Bush stoked considerable controversy when just one day after formally announcing for reelection, he launched TV ads that prominently featured imagery from Sept. 11, 2001.

“Sept. 11 changed the equation in our public policy,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at the time, defending the ads. “The president’s steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on terrorism.”

That’s, in essence, the same argument that Obama and his team are making about the use of bin-Laden in two web videos released by the campaign over the last 96 hours. If the American public needs to make a judgment on Obama’s first term decision-making, then it doesn’t make sense to ignore one of the major moments of those four years, they argue.

The question for Obama — to our mind — is not whether he can make mention of his decision to authorize the strike against bin Laden but rather how aggressively (and politically) he makes that case.

In the web video narrated by former President Bill Clinton , the question is raised as to whether Romney would have made the same decision if he had been president. Vice President Joe Biden echoed that sentiment in a foreign policy speech on Thursday, saying that the bumper sticker slogan of Obama’s presidency was “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” and wondering whether a President Romney would be using that slogan in reverse.

There’s no question that the recent ramping up of rhetoric is aimed at taking advantage of a rare place in polling where Obama’s numbers are strong. In a February 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll, 56 percent of people said Obama’s handling of terrorism was a major reason to support him while 20 percent said it was a major reason to oppose him.

In politics, however, too much of a good thing can be something short of wonderful. That is, politicians — and their strategy teams — can overplay their hands and, in so doing, turn a good issue for them into a neutral or even negative one. (See Creigh Deeds’ 2009 campaign against Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s thesis for a classic example of overplaying your hand.)

President Obama himself seems to sense the delicate line he and his team have to walk when talking about terrorism in the context of the 2012 campaign. “I hardly think you’ve seen excessive celebrating taking place here,” Obama said at a press conference Monday when asked about the role the bin Laden killing was playing in the presidential campaign.

Obama is well within his political rights — we generally believe that all’s fair in politics — to talk about the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist on his watch. The real question is the tone with which he handles that conversation and how aggressively he goes after Romney on what the former Massachusetts governor might have done in his shoes. That’s where the political danger could lie — particularly if the public views him as unnecessarily politicizing the issue.

New Obama ad hits 'Swiss bank account’: The president’s latest ad hits Romney for helping send jobs overseas. “It’s just what you’d expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account.”

It’s the first purely negative attack ad from Obama’s campaign; previous spots focused on Romney’s donors but less on the Republican candidate himself.

According to Politico, a Republican media buyer says the Obama campaign bought $458,883 of time Ohio, $88,455 in Iowa and $72,845 in Virginia from May 1 to May 7.

Obama takes on Kochs again: Obama’s campaign counsel has sent a letter to television stations asking them to evaluate the claims in the Americans for Prosperity ad “Wasteful Spending” and consider whether the spot should be pulled from the air.

Counsel Robert Bauer calls the ad “false through and through” and says that stations “have the duty to responsibly address false, misleading or deceptive advertising.”

While the letter doesn’t name the Koch brothers, AFP was co-founded by David Koch. A previous letter from the campaign to the Koch Companies president pushed back on the notion that AFP is a grassroots organization.

Scott Walker raises $13M: All those out-of-state trips weren’t for nothing: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) raised $13.1 million between January and April, meaning he’s taken in $25 million so far for his June 5 recall election. He’s shattered the record he set last year by raising $12.1 million as a state official.

State law allows the target of a recall to raise unlimited funds, and Walker has spent much of this year traveling to fundraisers with conservative donors around the country.

On the Democratic side, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (who didn’t get into the race until March 30) raised $830,000 for the quarter and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk raised $977,059.

First Balderas ad: New Mexico state Auditor Hector Balderas is out with his first ad in the state’s Senate race, emphasizing his rural roots.

“Most senators don’t come from places like this, don’t grow up on food stamps, or become the first person from their village to earn a law degree,” the narrator says over shots of Wagon Mound, Balderas’ small hometown. “But because Hector Balderas did, he understands the power of education in a way most senators never will.”

The winner of the primary will likely face former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) for the open seat, but Balderas has been outpaced by Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) in polls and cash.

FixBits:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) talks about using a party credit card to pay personal expenses and says he’s giving Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) the benefit of the doubt.

Romney is skipping the Texas GOP convention.

A genealogist says Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) appears to be 1/32 Cherokee.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is taking advantage of the health-care law he opposes to get insurance coverage for his 23-year-old daughter.

The GOP has a new convention blog, “Conventional Wisdom.”

Must Reads:

Bolling alone - Molly Redden, The New Republic

Hit below the belt shows Democrats can be tough too - Jon Ward, Huffington Post

Obama campaign puts Bo on the trail - Dan Eggen, Washington Post

 
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