Warning. In this post I discuss the American political implications of Osama bin Laden's death. To some--mostly Republicans who don't want President Obama to get credit for anything--this sort of discussion seems somehow out of bounds or too early or too divisive. To me, it seems as normal and natural as the air we breathe. Everything about bin Laden's public life and death is interconnected with US policy, so let's talk about US policy and politics.
First, in case you had any doubt before that President Obama would be re-elected, you can probably cast away that doubt now. Bin Laden's death is the single best news item Obama could have hoped for in his first term, with the possible exception of a miraculous economic recovery. In the minds of ordinary voters (those who aren't following political news all the time like you and me), Obama is now associated with patriotic ass-kicking. His campaign commercials will rekindle that association in the Fall of 2012. And patriotic ass-kicking wins elections.
Republicans also just lost what has been their top issue in recent elections: national security. I don't agree with Obama's conduct of the wars he inherited. But what room do Republicans have to criticize him? He fights their wars better than they did. And it's a fair question to ask: Why couldn't George W. Bush catch bin Laden? Maybe because he wasn't really trying...
"I just don't spend that much time on him, really, to be honest with you."
For Bush, bin Laden was more useful as living justification for his Global War on Terror and the exercise of unprecedented executive power. Remember, at the time of the remarks above, he was still plotting how to use 9/11 as justification to invade Iraq and maybe later Iran. Obama, on the other hand, campaigned on the strategy of shifting resources from Iraq to Afghanistan ("the right war") to better hunt bin Laden. When he took office he ordered the CIA to make Osama bin Laden its top priority. Whether those policies were right or wrong, they do mean Obama will get political credit for bin Laden's death. The old policy was failing, he changed it, and the new policy succeeded.
Finally, I've been watching as Republicans struggle to settle on their talking points about all this. For some, the line is simply, "Congratulations to our brave troops and how dare anyone politicize this." Others are bigger about it and congratulate everyone involved including President Obama. But Rush Limbaugh tried out something different the other day. He said something like, "I congratulate the president and thank him... for following the Bush policies in the war on terror." Oh please. The Bush policy of ignoring bin Laden? The answer to that argument is simply to play the video above.
More to follow as I try to pull the tarp off and fire up this old blog.