The New York Times' big story today, detailing President Obama’s role in the country’s counterterrorism efforts, should ignite a slow burn of new coverage and heated questions in the upcoming weeks. The scene, which presents Obama looking through Al Qaeda members' biographies and making the final life-or-death call of which suspects make their way onto what the Times calls "macabre 'baseball cards' of an unconventional war," feels ripped right from the third episode of The West Wing, "Proportional Response," where President Jed Bartlet struggles with the difficult decisions of war, in a cinematically presidential way.
This image (and the 2008 national security campaign literature trumpeting the phrase “Pragmatism over ideology,” which was regurgitated in the piece) captures the ultimate truth of the Obama presidency—something that will be overlooked in the inevitable columns that will challenge Obama on the civil-liberties shortcomings presented in the Times piece. Obama never ran as a liberal warrior, and he certainly hasn't governed as one—the mantle of progressivism is one his base put on him. In truth, Obama has always fancied himself a Bartlet—his steadfast pragmatism and nonideological swagger tempered with a dash of idealism and a healthy scoop of intellect—and that’s the face he and his administration (which was most cooperative with the Times) try to present in this piece.
What does this article mean for November? That can be summed up in a quote from Jeh C. Johnson, general counsel of the Defense Department: “Barack Obama believes in options: ‘Maintain my options.’” The main focus of the 2012 election will be the economy. The battle lines have already been firmly drawn—Obama has taken on the role of populist, reaching for rhetoric far more progressive than anything he risked in 2008 in an effort to draw a clear distinction from Mitt Romney, who has thrown in with Paul Ryan-style economics. Foreign policy, however, is where Obama can maintain his options. With the base excited on the economic and social front, he can use his string of foreign-policy successes and his telegenic presidentialness as a way to reach out to the more conservative members of the Democratic Party, as well as independents and undecideds. There’s no way Obama can make foreign policy a foundation of his 2012 campaign, but that doesn’t mean he’ll forego an opportunity to remind us of his record whenever it pops up.
So They Say
"Can a cuban born american be a mayor or governor in new england ?; I am here to help and want to do good for all the people; I will make it possible to turn right on red in Danvers and will bring hispeed internet to Braintree and solve the power outage in Fenway."
— Former baseball star Jose Canseco, tweeting his thoughts about a possible political career
Daily Meme: Marking Territories
- We told you that the Bain Capital story wasn't about to go away.
- It's Romney's turn to fight back, and his strategy is to frame Obama as the "Public Equity President."
- American Crossroads and the Romney campaign are both premiering ads this week with the new message.
- And yup, this means that Solyndra is back in the news.
- John McCain defended Romney's career on Fox News Sunday, saying, “The only place in the world that I can recall where companies never failed was the old Soviet Union. ... And yes, the free enterprise system can be cruel.”
- Moving forward, Romney better stick to his message better than he has been lately. He's even said ... Keynesian things!
- Meanwhile in the Obama camp, they are forging ahead with a spate of new Bain attack ads.
- As Samuel Popkin says, "We will be revisiting this debate about the government and the economy all election. Obama and Romney are both immensely talented—and both have major credibility problems."
What We're Writing
- Judith Lewis Mernit: Why are "pro-life" legislators cutting funds for special-needs children?
- Paul Waldman: Why can't we talk honestly about our war dead?
What We're Reading
- Benjy Sarlin looks into whether the improving economies in swing states are really enough to push Obama to the forefront.
- The Paul family is busy building its army.
- Romney went to Colorado to tell tales of economic woe, but local officials seemed pretty optimistic.
- Thad McCotter is running as a write-in candidate thanks to some petition problems.
- John Heilemann says Obama's strategy in 2012 is all about "Fear We Can Believe In."
- Kate Shepard has a profile of Obama's climate-change adviser … who used to work for Romney.
- Does Romney have an opening in Nevada, or will the Ron Paul drones shut him out?
Poll of the Day
In a new poll from Public Policy Polling looking at how the presidential race stands in Michigan, 38 percent of respondents think that the state's trees are the right height. Fifty-five percent are unsure.