The Strangeness of Obama Supporters Playing the Innocents-Killed Card

Due to policies the president has pursued, he's the candidate directly responsible for tragic deaths.



The advertisement above is the work of PrioritiesUSA, a SuperPac that supports President Obama. It assigns partial blame to Mitt Romney for the death of a terminal cancer patient. What does the former Massachusetts governor have to do with her sad story? As the ad tells it, the company that Romney led, Bain Capital, closed a plant that employed the man in the ad. Due to his subsequent unemployment, his family lacked health insurance. When his wife got sick, she delayed going to the doctor, perhaps because she knew that she and her husband couldn't afford the bills. And when she finally went to the doctor, her cancer had progressed passed the point where she could be saved by treatment. "I don't think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone," the widower states, "and furthermore, I don't think Mitt Romney is concerned."

The blogger Doug Mataconis has a good roundup of the numerous factual problems with the advertisement, and I join him in declaring it despicable, emotionally manipulative, and beyond the pale. All the scorn I heaped on the folks responsible for this Mitt Romney advertisement earlier this week is as appropriately applied to the unethical people who produced this pro-Obama ad.  

What I found most absurd about the advertisement, however, is the notion of enthusiastic supporters of President Obama attacking Mitt Romney for being complicit in the death of innocent people. Are they totally oblivious to Obama's record? It's true that the president has never led a company that closed a plant that employed someone whose wife later died of cancer.

(Has Obama ever fired anyone? I'd be curious to know.)

On the other hand, Obama personally approved a drone program that has killed hundreds of innocents since taking office. (Admittedly, few of them have TV-ready relatives living in a swing state.)

It would be nice if Obama defenders could respond that he's done everything in his power to minimize civilian casualties, but that isn't true. Drones that fire missiles, then sometimes fire again when rescuers rush to the scene, or when funerals are held, does not minimize civilian casualties. When a drone program defines "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent," the effect is not to minimize civilian casualties, but to maximize the cover the United States has to kill people without raising alarm from outside observers.

Do Obama supporters who cheered this anti-Romney ad understand the sort of commercial that grieving family members of this 16-year-old American boy killed in a CIA drone strike could make?

Should Mitt Romney be elected, I presume that he'll continue Obama's drone program; he's given no indication that he's bothered by the dead innocents it has produced, or that he'd introduce new safeguards and checks on executive branch power that, as presently constituted, guarantees abuses. But the inconvenient fact for Obama supporters is that so far, only Obama is responsible for the deaths of these innocents, for only he has served four years as president, during which he has established himself as international arbiter of which individuals live and die.

Even under a drone program that had better oversight, that captured accused terrorists when possible, and that defined "militant" more narrowly, so that there was more pressure to kill only bad guys, there would still be innocents killed. In that alternative scenario, Obama supporters would be less vulnerable to persuasive attack. In our reality, they have no credibility on this subject.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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