In a Monday appearance on CBS This Morning, liberal web magnate Arianna Huffington declared a certain campaign ad to be “one of the most despicable things you can do.”
The ad in question is the one where President Obama’s re-election team questions whether Mitt Romney would have authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, pulling a Romney quote out of context to get the smear job done:
The Obama ad has been getting some fairly harsh reviews, although Huffington might be the first big figure on the Left to use the word “despicable” to describe it. The increasingly humorous Left-leaning PolitiFact made a game effort to cover Obama’s backside by writing a long essay that clearly demonstrates the ad is unfair… but then rates it “mostly true,” because at least it quoted Romney more-or-less accurately, in the course of distorting his meaning.
This comes as Time magazine published a memo from Leon Panetta, director of the CIA at the time of the Abbottabad raid, which reads in full:
Received phone call from (National Security Adviser) Tom Donilon who stated that the president made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault. The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the president. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the president for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get Bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 a.m.
(Emphasis mine.) That’s not exactly consistent with the way Team Obama is portraying the “gutsy call.” You aren’t going to see any bumper stickers proclaiming, “Vote Obama: Because He Left Timing, Operational Decision Making, and Control in Admiral McRaven’s Hands.”
On the other hand, the Panetta memo doesn’t have to be read as a craven outburst of “CYA” posterior protection. The “risk profile” Panetta referred to was not a projection of how bad Obama would look on the Sunday talk shows if the raid went bad.
The CBS discussion with Arianna Huffington touches upon the raw nerve of the bin Laden kill, and the dangers of aggressively utilizing national security matters in political campaigns. The Left was quite happy to discourse upon those dangers, at great length, in 2004. Now that they’re saddled with the imperative to re-elect a real, honest-to-God cowboy unilateralist, who actually does make end-runs around Congress to launch military strikes, their previous visceral outrage at warrior-Presidents has been tucked into the same safety deposit box that holds their dread of the “unitary executive.” Their “Mother Sheehan” demons have been thoroughly exorcised… for the time being.
The passive employment of an incumbent’s national security resume is acceptable to most voters, although the elder George Bush can join the ghost of Winston Churchill to tell you how quickly military victories reach their sell-by date. It has often been remarked that democracy has an inherent desire to put its victories behind it, while it dwells upon defeat for generations. Elections tend to be forward-looking affairs, and most voters don’t look forward to warfare.
Also, voters have a tendency to recoil from politicians who jump in front of military heroes with unseemly haste. That’s one reason the Left became so very, very, very interested in George Bush’s lack of combat experience when he was running against John Kerry. It’s the emotional basis of the then-popular “chicken hawk” label, which will never be applied to Barack Obama, no matter how many military actions he launches. It’s also why Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” moment was misrepresented and written into America’s political lexicon with such energy. The goal was to make Bush look like a non-soldier blocking our view of the heroic troops.
Team Obama understands this, which is why they stooped to declaring that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have made the same “gutsy call” as Barack the Slayer. The suggestion made to voters is that Obama would make the same call again, while Romney would not. Oddly, they used Bill Clinton to send their message, even though his agents went berserk fighting to suppress the DVD release of a successful ABC documentary that reminded us Clinton himself did not make the “gutsy call” when it was his turn.
Aggressive politics requires more than reminding voters, “We did this.” It’s also essential to assert “they would not have done it.” In matters of national security, the line between aggressive and despicable is very fine.
Update: President Obama doubled down on the attack Arianna Huffington described as “despicable” in a press conference with the Prime Minister of Japan on Monday afternoon: