Published for www.commentarymagazine.com, May 1, 2012
Something fascinating–and potentially important–is happening in the 2012 presidential campaign.
The Obama campaign’s crass politicization of the killing of Osama bin Laden seems to have struck a nerve in just about everyone – from expected quarters (like the Wall Street Journal editorial page), to moderately conservative ones (like David Brooks of the New York Times), to liberal ones (like Dana Milbank of the Washington Post). But perhaps the most important criticisms are being made by Navy SEALs themselves, as Alana points out.
This cannot be what the Obama campaign predicted; and the fact that they would take their most notable achievement and employ it in a way that would be potentially counterproductive is a sign that the mindset of all the president’s men is so aggressive, so hyper-partisan, so mean-spirited and so desperate that they are acting in ways that are amateurish and self-defeating. It might also be a sign that Obama has so few genuine accomplishment to his name that when he actually is able to identify one, he mishandles it. They don’t have enough practice to know what to do with a real achievement.
I have felt for some time that the way in which Obama is running his campaign – splenetic, surly, petty, distracting, and dishonest – would end up doing significant damage to the president. It would diminish him in the eyes of the public, who actually do hold their presidents to certain standards of behavior, and undercut his impression as a likeable and essentially decent person.
You can’t use a (figurative) pick axe on your opponent day after day without chipping away at your own image. Jimmy Carter (who ran a very negative, and at times vicious, campaign against Ronald Reagan) discovered this in 1980. So will Barack Obama in 2012.