Obama's Moment

More

Osama Bin Laden One important artifact of last night's announcement that Osama bin Laden has been killed is the footage itself--the instantly iconic clip of President Obama sharing the news with the American people.

At 11:35 p.m., standing at a podium in the East Room of the White House, the president uttered these words: "Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that has killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children."

I expect that most people will see this clip dozens, if not hundreds of times in the coming weeks. It is already being canonized on cable television and can't help but have an impact on the direction of Obama's presidency. As any number of cable analysts are already pointing out, it will certainly rank among Obama's signature first-term achievements.



There is a very short list of similar such moments. One obvious example that springs to mind is George W. Bush's impromptu declaration from atop a pile of rubble to Ground Zero rescue workers just after 9/11: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"

In the days and weeks that followed, it became clear that that was a defining moment for Bush. His approval rating hit 90 percent. That episode might loom larger today had Bush not gone on to provide some less proud moments. Case in point, yesterday was the eighth anniversary of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, which did as much as anything to diminish his legacy, and came to stand as a sort of bookend to his statement at Ground Zero.

While Obama's announcement of bin Laden's death will go down in history, it's impossible to know quite what effect it will have beyond that. But it does provide its own bookend, and a much a happier one, to Obama's promise, in a presidential debate with John McCain on Oct. 7, 2008, that if elected president he would hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In