As Washington debates the (not particularly vital) question of whether it’s fair that President Obama claims credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s worth asking a single question—if the shoe were on the other foot, and President John McCain had issued the order to kill bin Laden, would Republicans hold to their current position, and insist that it wasn’t fair game for an election? Would Democrats continue tout its place on the president’s resume?
I think the answer is obvious; if the situation were reversed, the places would change too. The same Republicans who decry Obama’s use of bin Laden would loudly trumpet his death if a GOP president were on the line. Indeed, national security-based campaigns aren’t new to the Republican Party. In 2002, Georgia Democratic senator Max Cleland was defeated with the help of an ad that tied his reelection to bin Laden’s success. In 2004, the Bush White House hammered John Kerry for his suggestion that terrorism was a law enforcement problem more than anything else. Dick Cheney called Kerry’s view of terrorism “naive and dangerous,” and the campaign released an ad that questioned Kerry’s ability to fight the “war on terror,” “How can Kerry protect us when he doesn’t understand the threat?”
In 2006, while campaigning for Republican congressional candidates, Bush explicitly warned the crowd that the terrorists would win if Democrats were elected to Congress:
“However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses,” Bush told a raucous crowd of about 5,000 GOP partisans packed in an arena at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, one of his stops Monday.
It doesn’t take much digging to find that Republicans don’t actually have a problem with campaigning on national security, as long as it benefits their side. Likewise, the same is true for Democrats. The GOP outrage over the move to claim bin Laden is phony, and it’s really not difficult to see.