President Obama made the right decision not to release the photos of the body of bin Laden. The reasons he gave initially were that releasing the photos would endanger US security, inflame Muslim hardliners, and turn the bin Laden killing into an exercise in prurient, gory, bloodlust voyeurism still stand. But that hasn't satisfied a pack of GOP lawmakers. They loudly demand that Obama parade the bloody photos before the nation. They say releasing the photos will protect our national interests, bring closure to the family victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, and provide concrete verification of his death. None of these reasons make sense. His death has been convincingly verified by DNA and other evidence. And the Taliban leaders and Al Qaeda have issued statements that publicly declared that bin Laden is dead. A number of the family members of the 9/11 attacks have said that killing bin Laden did not ease their pain and trauma from the deaths of their relatives and loved ones.
But the GOP clamor for the release of the bin Laden death photos is not just frivolity taken to the extreme. There's a method to the ploy. The bin Laden killing dealt two huge hammer blows to the GOP. It snatched from the GOP's arsenal one of the major weapons it has used to blast Democrats -- their alleged softness on the military and the war on terrorism. Reagan, Bush Sr., and George W. Bush used this with devastating success to whipsaw Democratic presidential contenders. Bush especially masterfully exploited this falsehood to pound his Democratic presidential foe John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. He practically declared that a Kerry win would be a major threat to national security and open the floodgate to further terror attacks.
GOP Presidential contender John McCain used the same ploy against Obama in the 2008 campaign. He repeatedly attacked him as too young, liberal, inexperienced, and thereby too soft on the issue of combating terrorism. He didn't win with this charge. But polls still showed that a decisive majority said that McCain was tougher on terrorism and military preparedness than Obama.
The bin Laden killing decisively changed the public's perception of Obama and the Democrats on the terrorism issue. To the GOP's horror, Obama's approval ratings, which had plummeted in the days before the bin Laden kill, have gotten a major boost. More Americans now say that Obama has done a better job in the war against terrorism than Bush. The high praise and new found respect Obama has received in the war against terror burnishes his credentials as a tough and decisive military commander and leader.
This comes at a bad time for the GOP because of the start of the 2012 presidential campaign. Many moderate and conservative independents that deserted Obama in droves the last year are coming back, and they are crucial to the GOP's presidential candidate's chances to win back the White House. It's not just the shift of the independents back to Obama, though, that's worrisome to the GOP. Polls show that a majority of the GOP's rank and file are either clueless about the crop of GOP contenders, frustrated with them, or flatly disgusted with the clownish, media grandstanding antics and juvenile attacks of presumed candidates Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann that have reduced the GOP to a three ring circus. GOP leaders have a horrific vision that the slender chance they had of taking the White House is fast slipping away.
But with much of the public approving of the bin Laden take down and intensely interested in the events surrounding the killing, the GOP shouting for the release of the pictures is a natural hit issue to try to wipe away some of the political luster that Obama got from the action.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration made a minor stumble that gave some ammunition to the GOP to make the photos an issue. It bowed to the pressure and showed them to some GOP ranking Senate and House Members. This was just enough for the GOP to turn the desire of many Americans to see the photos into a political strategy to hector Obama.
Obama will likely continue to hear the loud chorus from those in the GOP and others that won't be satisfied with anything less than a chance to gander at the gruesome pictures of bin Laden's corpse. It will be part blood thirst voyeurism, part retribution for the 9/11 terror attacks, and in the GOP's case, another ploy to diminish Obama. That's all the more reason to keep the photos permanently locked up.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com.