Friday Talking Points Anniversary Week

If you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere all week, you may have missed the fact that an anniversary just happened. One year ago this past Wednesday, special operations forces killed America’s “Enemy Number One,” Osama bin Laden. When it happened, it was a time for some sober reflection — and some unsober and spontaneous celebration on the streets. Whether such was a good thing or not, it is what happened.
This week, we marked the milestone in two notable ways. The first was President Obama’s campaign team releasing a political ad which suggested Mitt Romney wouldn’t have made the same decision Obama did. The second was (shudder) Brian Williams being invited to the White House Situation Room in order to fill our television screens with schmaltz.
I have to admit, I have not yet seen the hour of BriWi (as I like to call him) doing his thing. I did tape it, so I may have the stomach to watch it later, but after approximately 15 seconds of retch-inducing self-congratulation by Williams, I had to leave the room. This sounds like an exaggeration or hyperbole, but sadly, it is not.
I knew what to expect, because I did sit through BriWi’s one-year anniversary show on Hurricane Katrina, which was (at least in my book) the absolute worst broadcast television news show in all of recorded history. The highlight (or “lowlight”) was Williams being driven around New Orleans, clutching a crate of cans of beans, which he helpfully told us he had brought along with him — in case he had to use them to bargain for his very life with the crazed rioters.
You simply cannot make this stuff up. It was like watching Geraldo, but with a more Midwestern accent. On one level, this gives us an equation that is quite useful to refer to, whenever attempting to watch NBC news shows: Brian Williams’ life is equal to a small hill of beans. As I said, you just can’t make stuff like this up.
I will probably go back and watch the interviews BriWi did (in what I just know he’s going to refer to as “the Sit Room”), but only because it’ll be very easy to fast-forward every time he opens his mouth. I am indeed interested in hearing what people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had to say about that day, if I can avoid BriWi pretending he is some sort of journalist. Thank all that is holy for fast-forwarding, to put it another way.
Which brings us to the president himself. His campaign attack ad on the bin Laden killing certainly got some attention this week. Pundits from all sides roundly criticized Obama for using the bin Laden killing in partisan politics. I must admit, when I first saw the ad, I got a bit of a sinking feeling myself, kind of a “did he really just go there?” moment.
Well, yes… yes, he did. And, upon reflecting on it for a week, I’m taking a “wait and see” attitude on the subject. Yes, this is a cop-out (one that I rarely take), but there it is.
Allow me to explain. Pretty much ever since Barack Obama got into the Oval Office, commentators from the Left have been suggesting, begging, admonishing, and yelling from the rooftops that Obama needed to show some political fight. Throughout the long tenure of Rahm Emanuel, we all (I definitely include myself in this bunch) screamed at the White House until we were hoarse that Obama needed to stand up for himself, for his party, and for his goals.
Yet many of those same voices were horrified at the bin Laden ad. Now, not everyone was clutching at their metaphorical handkerchiefs — Bob Cesca wrote a wonderful article supporting the ad, which ends with “more like that, please.” But after hearing some very prominent Democratic voices express disappointment with Obama over the ad, I was left with the feeling that Obama must be thinking “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” about such voices. Maybe I’m finally feeling Rahm Emanuel’s pain or something (now there’s a scary thought).
In the last truly bold move Obama made — the last fight he picked, politically — I was one of those handkerchief-clutchers swooning over the possible negative ramifications of taking on the Catholic Church over the issue of birth control. I was wrong. Massively, completely wrong. Instead of boomeranging, the entire thing has become one of the strongest campaign issues of the election season: fighting against the Republican “War on Women.”
Which is why, this time, I am more cautious. I am going to wait and see on this. It is so strange for a Democratic president to even be in this situation — where he can attack Republicans from a position of strength on one of their traditional strong points, national security. Usually, Democrats fight a defensive rhetorical battle on this issue, except when they go into full retreat and flee the field. This time, it’s the Democrat out in front, and it’s the Republicans who are on the defensive. So we’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out, because recent history is no guide at all.
Is the ad itself “fair game” or not? That’s a tough call, because it can lead right into Democrats insisting on Marquess of Queensbury rules while in a fight with a guy with two knives and a set of brass knuckles. That’s what recent history has shown us, again and again. When Democrats take this particular high road, they often get creamed by their opponents.
Maybe it’s just psychic numbness, after watching an entire decade of Republican ads on the subject of September 11th. I did get a laugh out of Rudy Giuliani solemnly advising President Obama to avoid such political attacks, because it was just so damn ludicrous. This is the man famously described, when he was running for the job Obama now holds, as being nothing more than “a noun, a verb, and 9/11″ — and now he’s got the gall to be some sort of hall monitor on what is politically acceptable in America? Puh-lease.
Barack Obama is stronger on foreign policy and national security than any Democratic president since the 1960s. We’re going to see a different sort of campaign, because of that. It will be interesting to watch, because it will be such a novel occurrence. While I do admit I was somewhat shocked to see Obama’s ad last week, I wonder now what watching this tectonic shift is going to be like for the next few months. Obama seems to be planning on running the campaign that John Kerry really should have attempted (instead of getting “swiftboated”).
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