Memo to Mitt Romney, and Republicans generally: President Obama isn’t a wuss. He’s not Jimmy Carter or George McGovern or Neville Chamberlain. He’s not a weak-kneed appeaser who is always surrendering to America’s enemies. More often, he kills them. So please, for the love of God, stop using the same arguments against him that you’ve been using against Democrats since 1972, because they’re not true anymore. And voters know it. Which means you’re making yourselves look silly.
Understand: I’m not always super-thrilled with the way Obama handles national security issues. I’d rather he be a little less trigger happy. If I never hear “Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive!” again, it’ll be too soon.
That’s not the GOP critique, though. Instead, Republicans gone back to the same dusty playbook they’ve been using for 40 years–from back when the Soviet Union was a thing—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.
“I don’t think (Obama) takes the terrorist threat seriously,” a conservative friend told me this weekend, “other than his willingness to use military personnel or drones to kill terrorists.”
My friend was being serious.
So what are Republicans’ main complaints?
The apology tour: It’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.” See?!? Republicans say. He doesn’t think we’re any better than anybody else!?!?! This even formed the basis of Mitt Romney’s running-for-president book.
They never, ever mention the rest of Obama’s quote, in which he actually does make the case for American values and leadership. “If you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world,” he said. “We 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.”
If that’s an apology, I’d hate to see the president when he’s in a bragging mood.
Standing up to Iran: Republicans like to make a big deal about President Obama’s early efforts to engage in diplomacy with Iran to end that nation’s nuclear efforts—suggesting the president is too weak to back up talk with action.
In reality, Iran is facing tougher sanctions than it ever has—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 could’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 hasn’t dropped bombs on Iran. But that isn’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 “leading from behind”—letting other nations assist in supporting Libyan rebels. It doesn’t matter that the end result (Gaddafi’s overthrow) is what Republicans say they wanted: America should’ve gotten more credit! They don’t say how a different approach would’ve served America’s interests better. It’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 Stevens—during a riot over an anti-Islam video—Republicans say Obama should’ve more forcefully told the world about America’s free speech values.
Only he did. “Americans 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,” Obama told the U.N. last week. “We 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.”
Yes, the president is imperfect on the national security front. He does a lot of things I don’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 he’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 can’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.