It was a constant theme during the last week: By presiding over the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama has gained renewed power on Capitol Hill to more forcefully push his agenda on everything from the war in Afghanistan to the federal debt ceiling.
This is absurd. The President deserves credit for giving the final go-ahead to take out al-Qaeda’s leader. But the removal of America’s most wanted enemy has done nothing to eliminate the very real ideological and policy differences that remain between Republicans and Democrats.
At a dinner last week with congressional leaders, Obama said, “It is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride [from taking out bin Laden] to confront the many challenges that we still face.”
Reflecting on the domestic political implications of the capture and death of bin Laden, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D.-S.C.) said, “Something this big, and pulling it off, is very helpful to [Obama] and helpful to this caucus. I think it will be very, very helpful during these budget debates. … People are going to respect his process a little more now.”
One liberal writer suggested that “in the wake of his dramatic bin Laden success, Obama has an opening to think outside the inbox.” He continued, “It’s one of those moments when it seems possible to reshape the climate of opinion—when national pride and a sense of unity blend to make history seem temporarily malleable. A moment, in other words, when, if a President were so inclined, he could decide to throw the long ball.”
I have even heard some conservatives who seem resigned to Obama getting his way for a while in the wake of his military triumph. I disagree.
Bin Laden’s death at the hands of our brave Navy SEALs is a source of pride for all Americans. But it will do nothing to ease Americans’ anxieties over the state of the economy, to stop gas prices from continuing to soar, or to create desperately needed private-sector jobs. And it in no way should influence upcoming debates over the 2012 budget or whether to raise the federal debt ceiling beyond the current $14.3 trillion.
The public seems to agree. A CBS/New York Times poll conducted after news of the killing was made public found that Obama enjoyed an 11-point improvement (to 57%) in public perception of his job performance. But the poll also found that a majority of Americans continued to disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy.
Why would any voter who opposes tax hikes, the growth of government, and a runaway budget deficit suddenly change his mind on those issues merely because Obama got Osama?
Some have suggested that by nabbing bin Laden, Obama has at least earned a respite from criticism of his foreign policy agenda. But given that knowledge of bin Laden’s location was obtained partly from information gained through “enhanced interrogation,” the event should be viewed as an affirmation of Bush’s anti-terrorism policy, and as a repudiation of Obama’s staunch and loud refusal to employ these measures.
What’s more, making the correct decision to take out bin Laden doesn’t affirm or justify the rest of Obama’s foreign policy—from his berating of Israel and indecisiveness in Libya to his gross neglect of human rights abuses around the world.
Others suggest that Osama’s demise makes Obama’s reelection all but inevitable. Ireland’s largest bookmaker slashed the odds on President Obama winning reelection from 4-7 to 2-5 after the bin Laden raid.
But it is unlikely that many voters will be thinking about Osama when they decide whether or not Obama has earned a second term in November 2012.
By way of comparison, Saddam Hussein’s capture by U.S. Armed Forces in December 2003 provided a temporary boost in opinion polls to President George W. Bush (eight percentage points, according to New York Times poll). But it provided no real policy or political advantage.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted shortly after the former Iraqi dictator was pulled out of a spider hole outside the Iraqi town of Tikrit found that eight in 10 Americans characterized the capture as a “major achievement.” But “almost no one,” according to an analysis of the poll by Gallup’s Frank Newport, “is willing to say that Hussein’s capture will affect his or her vote.” Newport wrote, “My review of our [poll] suggests that the American public … may not change its attitudes concerning both the war and the political landscape nearly as much as some have predicted as a result of Hussein’s capture.”
Hussein’s capture did not fundamentally alter the 2004 elections. As an analysis of a CBS News poll stated, “Saddam’s capture has not changed what voters say matters most to voters in the upcoming election: the economy.”
Hussein’s capture and bin Laden’s death took place in very different contexts. But the lesson holds. It is doubtful that the death of a single enemy will matter much to voters in 18 months, amid what may very well still be sky-high energy prices and a weak economy.
Consider this: If Obama had declined to take out an intractable enemy of America who had laid out the blueprint for 9/11, the outrage from his fellow countrymen would have doomed his aspirations for a second term. It was a choice he had to make. But this one right decision will not be enough to erase the many wrong policies that have burdened Americans with a weakened economy bogged down under the heavy weight of a bloated federal government.
In fact, the only way bin Laden’s death will have a significant political impact going forward is if it prompts legislators to capitulate to Obama’s disastrous agenda. The time is now to stand firm for limited government with the courage that the Navy Seals showed in dealing with a clear threat to the peace and prosperity of America.