Memo to Mitt Romney, and Republicans generally: President Obama isnâ€™t a wuss. Heâ€™s not Jimmy Carter or George McGovern or Neville Chamberlain. Heâ€™s not a weak-kneed appeaser who is always surrendering to Americaâ€™s enemies. More often, he kills them. So please, for the love of God, stop using the same arguments against him that youâ€™ve been using against Democrats since 1972, because theyâ€™re not true anymore. And voters know it. Which means youâ€™re making yourselves look silly.
Understand: Iâ€™m not always super-thrilled with the way Obama handles national security issues. Iâ€™d rather he be a little less trigger happy. If I never hear â€śBin Laden is dead and GM is alive!â€ť again, itâ€™ll be too soon.
Thatâ€™s not the GOP critique, though. Instead, Republicans gone back to the same dusty playbook theyâ€™ve been using for 40 years–from back when the Soviet Union was a thingâ€”to allege that the president is a naive weakling who is embarrassed of his country. You’d think Michael Dukakis was the Democratic nominee again.
â€śI don’t think (Obama) takes the terrorist threat seriously,â€ť a conservative friend told me this weekend, â€śother than his willingness to use military personnel or drones to kill terrorists.â€ť
My friend was being serious.
So what are Republicansâ€™ main complaints?
The apology tour: Itâ€™s conventional wisdom among Republicans that Obama, shortly after taking office, went on a tour of Europe to apologize for American conduct under President Bush. And supposedly, he even poor-mouthed American exceptionalism by telling an audience: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.â€ť See?!? Republicans say. He doesnâ€™t think weâ€™re any better than anybody else!?!?! This even formed the basis of Mitt Romneyâ€™s running-for-president book.
They never, ever mention the rest of Obamaâ€™s quote, in which he actually does make the case for American values and leadership. â€śIf you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world,â€ť he said. â€śWe have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.â€ť
If thatâ€™s an apology, Iâ€™d hate to see the president when heâ€™s in a bragging mood.
Standing up to Iran: Republicans like to make a big deal about President Obamaâ€™s early efforts to engage in diplomacy with Iran to end that nationâ€™s nuclear effortsâ€”suggesting the president is too weak to back up talk with action.
In reality, Iran is facing tougher sanctions than it ever hasâ€”and is feeling the pain of them. You may have heard about the Stuxnet computer virus that knocked the Iranian nuclear program off-track for awhile: Who couldâ€™ve been behind that? And the U.S. has been cozying up with the group reportedly responsible for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. No, America hasnâ€™t dropped bombs on Iran. But that isnâ€™t the only way to delay the nuclear program there.
Leading from behind: Republicans are still mad that President Obama helped overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi with a policy of â€śleading from behindâ€ťâ€”letting other nations assist in supporting Libyan rebels. It doesnâ€™t matter that the end result (Gaddafiâ€™s overthrow) is what Republicans say they wanted: America shouldâ€™ve gotten more credit! They donâ€™t say how a different approach wouldâ€™ve served Americaâ€™s interests better. Itâ€™s almost as though the GOP is interested in chest-thumping for the sake of chest-thumping.
Standing up for free speech: In the aftermath of the death of Libyan ambassador Chris Stevensâ€”during a riot over an anti-Islam videoâ€”Republicans say Obama shouldâ€™ve more forcefully told the world about Americaâ€™s free speech values.
Only he did. â€śAmericans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views — even views that we profoundly disagree with,â€ť Obama told the U.N. last week. â€śWe do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.â€ť
Yes, the president is imperfect on the national security front. He does a lot of things I donâ€™t like. But he argues for American values. He has killed terrorists and their leaders. He has undermined countries that threaten peace and stability, and overthrown dictators who confounded Ronald Reagan himself. You can probably argue heâ€™s been a more effective Republican president than most Republican presidents.
There’s a critique to be made of the president–just not the same, tired, hacky, hawkish critique Republicans have been making about Democrats since before most of today’s voters were born. Bottom line: You canâ€™t credibly argue the president is a wuss. Luckily for the president, the GOP doesn’t seem to have much interest in its own credibility.