The Political Significance of Bringing Bin Laden to Justice
It is hard to overestimate the political importance of the fact that President Obama has brought Osama Bin Laden to justice. In fact, his success in planning and executing the action against Bin Laden capped a week that - taken as a whole - shifted the political momentum in the United States.
Voters - and especially swing voters - choose Presidents based on the way they evaluate their leadership qualities.
Elections are about the candidates on the ballot. They are not about "issues" - though issues can become symbols for whether a candidate is "on my side" or a "strong effective leader." They are not even "about" the voter's objective experience with, for example, the economy - though that experience can have a huge impact on the way we size up the qualities of a leader.
People think about political questions, candidates and leaders through symbols - symbolic issues, symbolic events, symbolic stories.
Yesterday, President Obama created an overpowering political symbol. He succeeded at accomplishing a mission that seemed nearly impossible. It had eluded the tough-talking President Bush. It had taken many years.
Obama was directly - personally -- involved in the planning of that mission. He demonstrated the kind of patient, cool-headed, laser-focused, iron-willed leadership that everyday people are confident to follow.
His statement announcing the mission's success demonstrated dignity and pride - not boastful swagger. Barack Obama did not stride across a carrier deck in a flight suit and conjure up "mission accomplished." He confidently announced that he - and the forces under his command -- had actually accomplished the mission.
In one searingly memorable event, Obama swept away any Republican posturing that he - or Democrats - are not tough enough - or advocate a "weak-kneed" foreign policy. His success - and his style - made all of the gun-toting Palin and Bachmann rhetoric sound childish and irrelevant.
But the moment did not just communicate a feeling that Obama is a strong, effective leader. It also made Americans feel empowered and inspired.
Obama's ability to use rhetoric to inspire has always been one of his greatest political assets. Inspiration is the feeling a charismatic leader communicates that gives a feeling of empowerment to the listener. It is one of those rare leadership qualities that simultaneously persuades swing voters and mobilizes base voters.
This time Obama inspired by his actions. By succeeding at bringing Bin Laden to justice, Obama inspired Americans.
One of the lingering effects of 9/11 was to make Americans feel powerless. They felt their country was unable to bring the perpetrators to justice. And they quite correctly believed that the misguided wars that were justified by the need to "fight terrorism" had become quagmires.
Obama's success made them feel empowered. The spontaneous gatherings at the White House and Ground Zero after the President's announcement were not celebrations of Obama's success. They were a celebration of the feeling that all of us - that America - had succeeded at bringing justice to the victims of 9/11. You didn't hear people saying "Obama got Osama" - you heard people saying "we got Osama."
The ability of a President to make people feel good about themselves is a critical measure of leadership. President Obama made people feel good about themselves when they voted to elect him in 2008. The long slog back from the 2008 economic collapse has made it difficult since. Across America people feel good about themselves today.
The success of the Bin Laden mission ended a week that has already begun to turn the political tide.
The President's speech on his budget two weeks ago closed the political trap door on Republicans who had been lured by their own ideological blindness and hubris to propose a budget that eliminates Medicare and replaces it with a privatized program of federal support for insurance company premiums.
Throughout the Easter recess, Republican Members of Congress ran into a buzz-saw of opposition at home.
Obama's success with Bin Laden strengthens his position in dealing with the Republicans who are threatening to allow America to go into default without draconian cuts in Medicare and other critical and popular programs. But more than that, it accelerates the velocity of the already-shifting political winds. If you're a Republican candidate or donor you're going to start feeling it in your face.
His success makes the silly controversy over his birth certificate -- that had been revived by Donald Trump and until recently had been parroted by many other "serious" candidates -- look even more marginal. Appropriately, in many part of the country, the announcement of the successful mission interrupted Donald Trump's so-called reality show "Celebrity Apprentice," with its cast of B-list personalities, many of whom are famous for "doing nothing." As Roger Catlin wrote on courant.com,"And while Obama endeavored to provide some hope in his announcement, Trump eliminated Hope. Hope Dworacyzk, that is, the Playboy model eliminated on Celebrity Apprentice." The contrast was tangible, and striking.
While the President was planning the action that brought Osama Bin Laden to justice, Trump and the Birthers were trying to convince America - against all evidence - that he was born in Kenya.
Of course what they were really trying to do was imply to swing voters that "Obama is really not one of us - not really an American." Yesterday's success did more than any long form birth certificate to convince many ordinary voters that Barack Obama is precisely the kind of leader that makes them proud to be an American.
Robert Creamer's book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win", is available on