As I wrote in the last post, it’s impossible to know if the death of bin Laden will have much if any impact on the 2012 elections. Eighteen or so months is an eternity in politics. The economy, for good or ill, probably will be the biggest single factor in how people choose to vote. But I think Michael Tomasky has a good point here —
First, the obvious: Obama is certainly a stronger president today than he was two days ago. I watched the ceremony today in which he bestowed posthumous medals of honor on two US servicemen who fought in the Korean war. The tributes to these two men, both of whom sacrificed their lives to save their men, would have been sincere and moving in any case.
But in the present context, I couldn’t help but think: for those families, for all the military people in that room, for all the US military people in this country and around the world, Obama has a degree of credibility now that he’d lacked before. He’s not a military man, not steeped in military culture. That’s all still true. But now it’s basically canceled out. He got bin Laden. Period stop. An utterly un-rebuttable statement of strength.
And I think we will see as more details come out, indeed as we have already seen, that a big part of this operation’s success had to do with Obama himself. The national-security meetings he ran, the questions he asked, the decisions he made. I don’t want bombs, he said; I don’t want to kill children while we do this, and I don’t want a leg there and a hand there. I want a body, and I want proof, before America and (more importantly) a possibly doubting world.
Many are pointing out that the raid, as carried out, was a politically risky move for the President. President Carter had sent special ops troops in helicopters to rescue the hostages in Iran. That mission failed big time, and the failure cemented public opinion of Carter as a hapless wimp, paving the way for the election of “tall in the saddle” Ronald Reagan.
The arc of the last week illustrated what so many Republicans fear may prevent them from re-capturing the White House next year. In the span of 100 hours, the spectacle of a national discussion over President Obama’s long-form birth certificate—sparked by the pronouncements of a real estate developer who doubles as a reality show celebrity—gave way to a moment of utmost seriousness, defined by the president’s somber delivery of history-making news.
The GOP establishment, Martin says, hopes that the week’s events will sober up the field and drive out the “clown candidates.” There’s a Republican primary debate in South Carolina on Thursday and it will be interesting to see what the candidates do.
The larger point is that, while the death of bin Laden might not be a front-burner issue in 2012, it certainly has changed the trajectory of U.S. politics in President Obama’s favor.
See also Dan Froomkin, “Obama Succeeded Where Bush Failed.”