With Monday’s one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Obama campaign has been using the episode to showcase what it sees as the president’s leadership qualities – as well as to cast doubt on whether Mitt Romney would have made the same call.
Team Obama lately has been highlighting a quote from Romney, in which he downplayed the importance of killing the al Qaeda leader. “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person,” said Romney in 2007.
That contrast appears to have Team Romney worried. Ed Gillespie, a senior campaign adviser and former RNC chair, went on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday to complain that the Obama campaign is inappropriately politicizing the assassination.
“This is one of the reasons President Obama has become one of the most divisive presidents in American history,” said Gillespie. “He took something that was a unifying event for all Americans … and he’s managed to turn it into a divisive partisan political attack.”
Gillespie added: “I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign.”
On Morning Joe Monday, TIME’s Mark Halperin described using bin Laden’s death as “totally fair game,” though he added that he’s “surprised there is not more questions raised about it."
Joe Scarborough seemed to think it was out of bounds. “The standard I go to is George H. W. Bush, who was there when the [Berlin] Wall came down, and he refused to use it in his campaign,” said Scarborough, warning: “At some point, Americans are going to stop and say, 'boy they’re really exploiting this politically.'”
New York magazine’s John Heilemann seemed to disagree, noting that the decision to order the attack on bin Laden goes to Obama’s leadership qualities. “It does in fact highlight the president’s mode of decision-making in a really significant way.”
Indeed, it's worth remembering that President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign famously created ads that used images of the charred World Trade Center, angering some families of 9/11 victims. Gillespie, who was RNC chair at the time, didn’t appear to object, and took a job in the Bush White House not long after.
More broadly, the killing of bin Laden is one of President Obama's key foreign policy accomplishments. It's easy to see why the Romney camp wants to take it off the table for the purposes of the election -- but there's no reason whatsoever the Obama campaign should comply.
It was left to Willie Geist to gently express bemusement that the Obama campaign’s highlighting of the episode is being treated as controversial.
“On the list of things this country wanted to do over the last decade, killing Osama bin Laden was close to the top,” said Geist. “So I don’t think we should be surprised that it comes up again and again.”