After bin Laden Kill, Obama's Critics Go Over the Top

By Conor Friedersdorf

Conservatives still look for reasons to call the president weak. It's going to backfire.

Obama walking to mic bin laden - Reuters - banner.jpg

Osama Bin Laden

The debate over the photograph of Osama bin Laden's corpse reached its low point when bicoastal media elite Sarah Palin wrote this: "Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission."

What's noteworthy here is the line about "pussyfooting around." It so perfectly captures a core flaw that warps the thinking of Palin, her sycophants, and other Obama critics on the right. Behold the absurd emphasis on talk over action: The Obama administration sent trained warriors on a covert special-forces mission inside Pakistan, where they fought their way into a fortified compound and shot Osama bin Laden in the head. In the aftermath of this violent and successful mission, President Obama decides to withhold a photograph of the corpse. How does she describe this?

Pussyfooting!

She isn't alone in having issued complaints that amount to President Obama's bite being worse than his bark. It's been one of the most persistent critiques of his presidency. Here is National Review's Andy McCarthy in an excerpt from his bestselling book:

President Obama's administration has been roundly ridiculed, and deservedly so, for its aversion to the language of war -- indeed, for the word war itself. From the Bush language purge, though, it was but a short hop to this sorry destination. Short and inevitable. Saul Alinsky, Obama's community-organizing inspiration, waxed at length about language in "Rules for Radicals," about the power of words to inspire ... or to enervate ...

War is a powerful word, redolent of power, force, zeal and national purpose. That is why the left routinely invokes war in its beloved campaigns against poverty, obesity, and other abstractions. Real wars, the forcible defense of our nation and the pursuit of our interests, are to be avoided. So are real enemies.

It's a bizarre mindset. The Obama administration shifts its rhetoric, abandoning the locution "The War on Terrorism," even as it sends more troops into Afghanistan and radically increase drone runs into Pakistan. Summing up this new reality, McCarthy and others somehow conclude that less talk of war and more actual war signify a belief that "real wars... are to be avoided."

Perhaps that explains why McCarthy was so surprised when Obama went to war in Libya. But there are many prominent examples besides. Bill O'Reilly, S.E. Cupp and Sean Hannity have insisted that the president won't say the words "war," "terrorist," or "War on Terrorism" respectively. As it happens, all that is false. Even if it were true, however, it is bizarre to focus so much on the rhetoric of a wartime president when his actions are before us and an obviously superior window on reality.

To whom does this nonsense appeal? A segment of the conservative base in evidence all over the Internet and represented by this commenter at Big Government:

ARRGGHH-I'm so sick of farking PC, weak-kneed, namby-pamby, man-boy, jack-off, circle jerking liberals. I could puke right now. If the new GOP can't make MOUNTAINS of hay out of this, I don't know how we survive. It's as simple as this: As your President, should I win, I WILL not only release photos of any and all terrorists killed, but forensics will be done on the bullets and medals will be handed out in private ceremonies to the shooter/s.

It doesn't matter what President Obama does.

A vocal minority on the right will insist, against all evidence, that he is a "weak-kneed liberal." And Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Andy McCarthy and others will be right there to encourage them in this delusion or pander to them. It's idiotic, and it distracts from sound criticism of the current administration. But it is perhaps inevitable given that the mainstream of the conservative movement has invested so much in the demonstrably false narrative that Obama is weak on terrorism.

Some partisans would argue that this is going to hurt Obama regardless of its truth. I doubt it. Especially after bin Laden's killing, general-election voters who chose the untested young senator as commander in chief aren't going to doubt that he's qualified for that job. More likely, conservatives are going to wish that they'd invested a lot less time on critiques of Obama that were so quickly and persuasively rendered moot by his war-making. The risk in pushing a narrative based on political calculation or wrongheaded assumption is that events are prone to making you look foolish. As 2012 approaches, that appears to be happening to some of the more strident GOP contenders. The fiscal critique of Mitch Daniels is looking more promising every day.

Image credit: Reuters

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/after-bin-laden-kill-obamas-critics-go-over-the-top/238390/