The presidential campaigns are abuzz over a new campaign strategy by President Obama, who is playing up his decisiveness in the military operation that killed Osama bin Laden -- and suggesting that his Republican opponent Mitt Romney wouldn't have done the same. That's the theme rolled out recently by campaign pit bull (and Vice President) Joe Biden, and it's the topic of a new Obama ad that blogpreneur Arianna Huffington thinks is "despicable."
Huffington is sort of right -- the Obama ad is pretty despicable -- but not for the reasons she suggests. In an appearance on "CBS This Morning," Huffington compared the spot to Hillary Rodham Clinton's "3 a.m. phone call" ad from the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination contest, which implied that we could all sleep safer knowing that if the White House phone rang at 3 a.m. with some kind of crisis, Clinton (rather than Obama) would be the one to pick it up. "There is no way to know whether Romney would have been as decisive," Huffington huffed. "And to actually speculate that he wouldn't be is, to me, not the way to run campaigns on either side."
Well, not quite. There was nothing despicable about Clinton's ad, which simply implied that her superior experience in affairs of state made her the best person to handle a crisis. As the incumbent, Obama enjoys the same advantage over Romney, so it's little surprise that his campaign is making a big deal over his wise management of the Bin Laden operation. What makes the ad more than a little distasteful is its characterization of Romney's past statements, which are taken out of context to make it look as if he wouldn't have bothered pursuing the Al Qaeda mastermind.
"It's not worth moving heaven and Earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." This statement, uttered by Romney in a 2007 Associated Press interview, is featured prominently in the Obama ad. Byron York in the Washington Examiner pulled the entire interview and shows that Romney was just trying to make a larger point: The search for Bin Laden was just one part, and not the most important one, of a global struggle against Islamic terrorism that had many other leaders. In its full context there's nothing unreasonable about this statement, and it doesn't imply that Romney, presented with actionable intelligence about Bin Laden's location, wouldn't have issued the same orders as Obama.
Romney's rather flippant response to all this -- "even Jimmy Carter would have given that order" to capture or kill Bin Laden, he told reporters at a campaign event Monday -- was pretty lame, but give his speechwriters time to catch up and he'll doubtless have something better. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is smart to play up Obama's superior experience and his proven correctness is pursuing Bin Laden. But implying that Romney might have ignored the architect of 9/11 is taking things a big step too far.