Advancing a Free Society

UBL, BHO & 2012

Monday, May 2, 2011

I thought it might be crass to speculate as to how Osama bin Laden’s death impacts next year’s presidential election. But I see that The New York Times wasted no time in reading the tea leaves.

So allow me to play along with the “Gray Lady” and offer a few thoughts:

  1. Obviously, Sunday night’s blockbuster announcement is an enormous benefit to President Obama in that it’s the first “clean” accomplishment of his administration. And by “clean”, I mean a feat that doesn’t lend itself to instant partisan bickering, such as the two signature accomplishments of Obama’s first two years in office: health care and stimulus spending. No serious Republican candidate will disagree with the fact that it’s a better world minus this one person. Only conspiracy whacks (and/or Donald Trump) will want a death certificate.
  2. For Obama, it’s a sorely needed leadership moment – ironically, at the same time he was getting heat from Republicans (and, anonymously, from within his administration) for the “lead from behind” approach to Libya. Obama received the intelligence, authorized the mission. The same President who’s been likened to Jimmy Carter (conversely, a failed helicopter raid to free American hostages in Iran, three decades ago) will get a bump in the polls for seeming a little . . . well, unCarteresque.
  3. Is there any economic gain in this? Silver futures fell and oil prices sagged on news of UBL’s death; the U.S. dollar gained against major currencies. Unfortunately, for Obama, it’s not like OPEC’s going to slash oil by $30 a barrel.

And now, the bad news:

  1. It’s May 2011, not 2012. We still have 18 months ago until the next presidential election. A lot can change between now and then -- witness the fact that we started Sunday morning talking about Gaddafi and his son and ended it fixated on UBL and his son. The lesson of George H.W. Bush comes to mind – the liberator of Kuwait and a personal-best 89% approval rating in February 1991. A year later, and with Pat Buchanan nipping at his heels, Bush’s numbers tumbled as he was seen as ineffective and of touch on the economy.
  2. Let’s keep repeating that word: the economy. While UBL’s death is both a public morale boost and a needed presidential laurel, it may mean little a year from now of gasoline and food prices continue to rise and McDonald’s is the only company that’s hiring.
  3. In the grand tradition of Ronald Reagan – who famously asked on-screen: “where’s the rest of me?” – where’s the rest of the non-partisan, non-controversial Obama legacy? The President who promised to bring Washington together still needs at least one feel-good substantial “win” on the domestic front – e.g., spending reduction, entitlement reform – and here he can’t rely on Navy Seals to do his bidding.

Final thought: Obama caught one other gigantic break on Sunday night which the media didn’t notice – the special-ops mission did not result in the capture of bin Laden. As we saw in the ruckus over whether 9/11 mastermind Khalid Skaikh Mohammed should face civilian or military trial, imagine the political headache going into the re-elect: where to house UBL; where to hold the trial. Obama, in effect, dodged a bullet . . . thanks to a bullet that found Osama.

(photo credit: White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)