During the 2008 presidential election campaign, the GOP hit plan on then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was simple. Pound him relentlessly as soft on the war on terrorism and the military. GOP presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in 2004 in his reelection fight with Democratic presidential foe Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents.
The GOP strategists believed that the soft-on-terrorism smear would work even better on Obama. He was a liberal Democrat, untested in foreign policy matters, had made conciliatory remarks about Islam, was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War, and unstated, but very much a part of the thinking, he was African-American. This supposedly made him vulnerable to the sneaky and borderline racial suspicions among many that question black's patriotism. The smear almost worked. Polls consistently showed that despite the mountain of political baggage GOP presidential contender John McCain and the GOP carried, and the sky-high voter disgust with Bush's domestic and foreign policy bumbles, the terrorism fears issue still had enough resonance to keep McCain competitive.
But Obama knew the history of how the GOP used the soft-on-terrorism ploy to discredit Democrats. He moved quickly to counter the fable. He threatened preemptive strikes against Pakistan for harboring terrorists and vowed to wage relentless war in Afghanistan against terrorism and al Qaeda. During the campaign, he continued to assure that he'd launch preemptive strikes against terrorists wherever they were, and that included search and destroy missions to ferret out bin Laden. He even quipped that he'd put his own life on the line to stop another 9/11 attack.
The GOP -- to their shock and to the ire of many progressive and liberal Democrats -- found that he meant his words. He refused to soften any of the provisions of the Patriot Act, promptly issued a shoot-to-kill order against the Somali pirates to free American hostages, stepped up the drone attacks on the Taliban in Pakistan, and approved the massive expansion of troops, bases, and spending on the Afghan War. But most importantly, he issued tough and secret orders to the CIA to continue to do everything to destroy and disrupt l Qaeda and to take out the one man that Americans most wanted dead, and that was bin Laden. Obama's order to the CIA and military counter-terror teams hunting bin Laden was clear; do not capture, but kill.
The bin Laden killing has forced GOP leaders to scramble. The cheering crowds outside the White House following the announcement that bin Laden was dead, the glowing praise from much of the public, and the congratulations from world leaders drove home the frightening political implications for the GOP with presidential campaign 2012 gearing up. Obama had done the one thing that Bush, despite his bluster and tough talk, could not do, and that's take out America and the world's public enemy number one symbol of terror. Obama, in one fell, and spectacular, swoop, had rudely shattered the myth that's been a key weapon in the GOP campaign hit arsenal for decades, and that is that a Democratic presidential candidate, or president, was incapable of waging as tough and effective a war on terrorism as a GOP president.
Confronted with the political game changer of the bin Laden killing, it is amusing to see the tortured gyrations that GOP officials and conservatives are going through to heap credit on Bush, the military, special ops teams, the CIA, the 9/11 victims families, and even the general public for the bin Laden kill, while either giving perfunctory, or no, credit to Obama for the pivotal role that he played in taking down bin Laden.
The bin Laden action came at the worst possible time for the GOP. Obama's poll approval numbers were sagging, and more Americans continued to voice displeasure over the way the country was going. This was the one bright spot for the GOP, especially coming on the heels of other polls that showed that GOP core voters were bored, disheartened, and even contemptuous of the crop of would-be GOP presidential contenders. At the same time, a majority of voters were repelled by the media grabbing, showboating, clownish antics of purported GOP contenders Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
In his national television address announcing the bin Laden kill, Obama smartly did not revel in it. He posed it solely as a grim, but necessary, action in the war on terrorism. It was purely a national security priority. He just as smartly took pains to assure that this was not a war on Islam. Both messages were necessary, and both have left the GOP even more hapless and reeling to top this, now that another of their cherished myths about Obama has been shattered.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He also hosts the Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com.
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