“YOU know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies,” President Obama said last May 4. “Americans and people around the world are glad that he (Osama bin Laden) is gone. But we don't need to spike the football.” Two days earlier, the notorious terrorist and backer of the 9/11 attacks had been killed in a raid for which Obama had given the thumbs-up.
Obama's words at that time bespoke the quiet dignity and restraint proper to presidential power. He had taken a huge risk in authorizing the raid that killed bin Laden one year ago. The political temptation to avoid the incursion must have been immense. Had it gone badly, Obama's presidency would be in significantly worse shape than it is today. He deserved credit for providing the right kind of civilian military leadership at the right moment, and giving the thumbs-up when others — including his own vice president — argued against the mission. He also knew better than to behave arrogantly or openly exploit bin Laden's death afterward.
Until now, that is. Sadly, the quiet dignity and restraint of last May gave way to this April's vulgar political boasting. With his chances at a second term increasingly uncertain, Obama's campaign has begun hyping the bin Laden raid. The most overt instance is its release of an ad extolling Obama's decision, with Bill Clinton as narrator and featuring multiple pensive images of the commander in chief.
The ad employs an out-of-context quote (a staple of distortive political advertising) to question whether presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have shown the same gutsy leadership if the same opportunity had arisen and he was president. “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?” the ad asks.
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