In the wake of the successful operation to take out Osama bin Laden, Democrats have been crowing about how the president is now either (1) untouchable on matters of national security, or (2) unbeatable in 2012, or both. Some on our side have pointed to the election of 1992 as to why this may not be the case. Of course, no one knows at this point, but in my opinion, Republicans must tear down some false premises between now and then to have a decent chance of winning.
One thing to keep in mind is that President Bush the Elder was pretty much expected to do what he did in the first Gulf War. Oh sure, many liberals had their doubts about whether our military action would succeed given the false pre-war information that was spread about the might of Saddam’s Republican Guards. But it was hard to question the president’s being up for the challenge, wimpy reputation or not. After all, his resume in national security matters was as deep as any incoming president ever--envoy to Communist China, the CIA Director, and of course the vice-president for eight years. Even so, he got a tremendous “bump” in the polls after the war’s successful conclusion, but due to the economy—and Bush’s character not permitting him to thump his chest about his achievement--it did not last.
To contrast, Obama’s action regarding bin Laden, given his national security policies to date, had to have been viewed even by his most ardent supporters as against the grain of his views if not downright shocking. It would be natural to think, then, that his post-mission “bump” would have been astronomical, especially given the anti-Bush mantra that bin Laden should have been priority one from the get-go. Unfortunately for Obama, the bump was more like a pebble. However, the long-term benefit may, ironically, accrue to Obama’s favor more so than it did for President George H.W. Bush.
Why this might be the case has more to do with the national narrative and the political parties’ modus operandi regarding that narrative over the last 80 years or so. The narrative has created many false premises about America, but one of the biggest is that the Democrats have the moral high ground on most if not all issues. This of course hit its zenith in the Vietnam-Watergate era and the resignation of Richard Nixon in the 1970’s, but the fact that the Republicans were the minority party for decades prior to Nixon helped ingrain the negatives about him and Republicans in general, many of which have lasted to this very day.
To use a sports analogy, the team that has the more confident attitude—often called “swagger”—is normally going to win the game, even if that team may not be as good as its opponent on paper. For the last 80 years, the Democrats have been the party of swagger. No matter that Bill Clinton was impeached; no matter how incredibly ineffectual Jimmy Carter was; no matter how incompetent and downright scary Obama has been so far. Democrats know that as long as they don’t acknowledge their failures, neither will their friends in the media, and they can just move on unscathed from one mess to the next. In this case, Obama will show his swagger by continuing to remind us at every turn that he was the one that took out our arch-enemy, the number one terrorist.
This is why the first Republican presidential debate of the 2012 race last Thursday, as early in the game and insignificant as it may seem, was like an oasis suddenly encountered in the middle of a desert. Here were five supposedly also-ran candidates, only one or two of which according to the Beltway pundits stand any chance of getting the nomination, taking turns deconstructing the Obama presidency and the many false premises that have propped it up until now. From energy policy to Obamacare to the sluggish economy, none of these men were afraid to speak the truth about where Obama’s agenda is taking us. And Herman Cain emerged as a more common-sense, polished, and arguably more successful version of Donald Trump. Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, made a real splash with his direct, tell-it-like-it-is approach. If he doesn’t make it to the top, surely someone will at least consider him for a running mate. His being an African-American will enable him to take the role of attack dog without fear of the race card being played.
These five candidates gave the so-called front-runners—Romney, Huckabee, Gingrich et al—a primer on how to present the party’s positions on the issues—from strength and confidence and not defensively and apologetically. The false premise that the Republican position is not as defensible as the Democrats’ on most issues can and must be broken. For the first time in quite a while, these five candidates last Thursday provided a glimpse of how this can be done. Now it must be continued.