The killing of Osama bin Laden is likely to boost President Obama's popularity and help Democrats deflect the frequent Republican claim that they're soft on terrorism, though euphoria over the military operation may be short-lived in the face of lingering unemployment and rising gas prices.
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The death of one of the nation’s archenemies and the mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks on the U.S. gave even recession-weary Americans something to celebrate. And, after months of sagging poll numbers for their party's leader—Obama’s latest job-approval rating, according to Gallup’s daily tracking poll, was 46 percent—it gave Democrats a fresh boost of confidence.
“If there was ever a doubt that Obama was a strong commander in chief, this settles it,’’ crowed Jim Jordan, who is spearheading independent Democratic fundraising efforts outside the national party for the 2012 election. “The bump he’ll get won’t last forever, but it certainly will be helpful to his strength and leadership dimensions.’’
Even top Republican strategists acknowledged that the news is at least a short-term coup for the president. “All of the scripts and fundraising appeals on Obama on losing the war on terror are probably going in the trash bin today,’’ said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union. “You’ve got to pay your respects for this big win and let the president do his victory lap. Having said that, foreign policy can change overnight.’’
The avenging of 9/11 by a president whose middle name is Hussein and who has been dogged by false rumors that he is Muslim has significant implications for Democrats, who for decades have battled GOP insinuations that they are soft on national security—charges that only increased after al-Qaida's attack on American soil 10 years ago. "Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world. And Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world,” Karl Rove, an adviser to then-president George W. Bush, said in 2006.
Perhaps most illustrative of the Democratic Party's vulnerability on military and national security issues is the fact that the party's 2004 nominee, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., could not escape having his credentials questioned even though he is a decorated Vietnam veteran.
Obama—who had far less foreign-policy experience than the longtime Massachusetts senator—has similarly faced criticism of waffling on foreign policy. But his statement on Sunday night, and subsequent accounts of how the attack unfolded, have emphasized his heavy personal involvement in the planning of the attack, a military foreign-policy achievement that even his sharpest critics acknowledge, even as they predict that the bounce will be short-lived.
“It sounds like an incredible military operation and President Obama deserves credit, but I don’t think it measurably alters the debate on what we need to do to win the war in Afghanistan and effectively combat terrorism,’’ said Randy Scheunemann, who served as the foreign-policy adviser to Obama's 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “If we are not perceived as achieving our goals, a signal will be sent out a second time that a superpower has been defeated in Afghanistan.’’
And now, it is Republicans who are emphasizing economic issues as the center of next year's campaign. “I don’t think this election will be about national security and terrorism,” said Washington-based GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. He likened Obama's potential post-bin Laden surge to the one that President George H.W. Bush experienced after winning the Persian Gulf War—a surge that was soon swamped by economic doldrums.
Cameron Joseph and Lindsey Boerma contributed contributed to this article.