The Obama re-election campaign doesn’t appear fazed by attacks from the right about “politicizing” the killing of Osama bin Laden, and on Sunday remained on offense over what it said was one of the president’s accomplishments.
“The president hasn’t been spiking the ball,” said President Obama’s senior campaign adviser David Axelrod on ABC’s This Week. “This was the one-year anniversary. It’s part of his record. And it’s certainly a legitimate part of his record to talk about.” Axelrod said Obama followed through with his promise that catching the al-Qaeda leader would be a top priority. “And then he ordered a mission that was — was, frankly, risky, dangerous,” he said. “Bob Gates said it was one of the most courageous, one of the gutsiest decisions he’s ever seen a president make. And it turned out successfully.”
Axelrod was responding to an outside conservative group’s ad — hailed by Karl Rove and widely discussed in the conservative blogosphere — that utilizes ominous music to sharply attack Obama for taking credit for the killing of Bin Laden on the first anniversary last week. “Heroes don’t seek credit,” the ad said. “Heroes don’t politicize their acts of valor.”
“Yes, it’s the swift boating of the president,” the leader of the group told Mother Jones.
Republicans were particularly peeved that Obama’s campaign commercial about the killing quoted 2007 remarks from his likely opponent Mitt Romney saying it’s “not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars” to catch bin Laden. GOP lawmakers and strategists widely condemned the spot as an effort to “politicize” what should have been a moment of unity for the country. Romney responded that “any thinking American” in Obama’s position would have ordered the raid.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), also appearing Sunday on ABC’s This Week, sought to defend his 2007 criticism of then-opponent Romney’s comments about the al-Qaeda leader: “If you looked at — the entire context of his remarks was that bin Laden was part of the overall war on terror and we shouldn’t just focus on that interview.”
The achievement helps shield Obama from attacks on his foreign policy. But the issue itself isn’t likely to have much of an impact on the election unless there’s a “major terrorist incident,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.
“The debate over ‘spiking the football’ or ‘dancing in the endzone’ (or what other football metaphor comes to mind) matters only to political junkies,” Pitney said in an email. “It probably will do Obama little good but won’t do him any real political harm either.”
Either way, team Obama isn’t about to soft-pedal the killing.
“Mitt Romney condemned then-candidate Obama for saying that if he had intelligence and he didn’t have a — if he wasn’t going to ask the Pakistani government if he could take out Osama bin Laden, he would,” said Austan Goolsbee, a close Obama ally and former White House official, on the ABC roundtable Sunday. “The president did that. It strikes me as totally relevant whether the opposing candidate would do so now.”
Axelrod said that Obama is merely running on his record, and previewed an upcoming “advertising campaign” to tout the president’s achievements which will include “the fact that we’re safer today because bin Laden is gone.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.