Follow the Leader
Democrats are using patriotism to drown out criticism of the president, just like George W. Bush.
Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.
Last night, in a confrontation over Libya, President Obama beat the stuffing out of Mitt Romney. Liberals are ecstatic. They shouldn’t be. Obama’s response to the Libya question was a carbon copy of George W. Bush’s response to questions about Iraq in 2004. Democrats have learned the cynical art of turning patriotism against dissent.
An hour into the town hall debate, a voter said he’d seen “reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans.” He asked Obama: “Who was it that denied enhanced security, and why?” Obama didn’t answer the question. Here’s what the president said instead:
1. I’m the one who greets the coffins. “Nobody is more concerned about their safety and security than I am,” said Obama. “These are my folks, and I’m the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home. … I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.”
2. Trust me, because I say so. “When I say that we are going to find out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable,” said Obama. “You know that I mean what I say.”
3. What’s important is retaliation. “We are going to find out who did this, and we’re going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I’ve said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them.”
4. I’m taking it to the enemy. “I said that we’d go after al-Qaida and Bin Laden. We have.”
5. Right or wrong, I’m resolute. “Not everybody agrees with some of the decisions I’ve made. But when it comes to our national security, I mean what I say.”
6. Questioning my veracity is offensive. “The suggestion that anybody in my team … would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander-in-chief.”
7. My opponent is playing politics with national security. “While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Gov. Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points. And that’s not how a commander-in-chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue.”
In 2004, Bush used the same ploys. He milked the symbolism of flags, coffins, and Andrews Air Force Base. To paper over his failures as a manager, he ran as a warrior and avenger. He vouched for his own reliability. He substituted confidence for evidence, resolve for judgment. He argued that he was clear and honest, even if you disagreed with him. He used indignation and emotional appeals to drown out questions. When critics dissented, he accused them of dividing the country and undermining national security.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.