Wait, Who’s Political?
By Stephen F. Hayes @ The Weekly Standard (September 13, 2012)
Mitt Romney is being accused of crass political opportunism for speaking up about the attacks on U.S. interests in Egypt and Libya on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. And not just by his political opponents. By Wednesday evening Reuters, in a straight news piece, reported that Romney’s comments “had become a public relations debacle for the Republican’s presidential campaign” and risked being seen as “unsavory political opportunism.”
The lede of the Washington Post story read: “Crises overseas tend to create moments of joint resolve back home, a time to pause from the daily bickering of partisan politics. But as news was streaming in from attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney broke from that protocol.” Other news outlets echoed these sentiments.
The unstated assumption is that Mitt Romney got political while Barack Obama was busy being presidential. That’s not what happened. Overlooked in the media rush to condemn Romney for his comments is the extent to which the Obama campaign – and White House – continued its political activities.
So, some context.
In the early morning hours of 9/11, before any recognition of the solemnity of that day, a tweet went out from Barack Obama’s account that noted: “The election is in 8 weeks. Sign up to volunteer. http://OFA.BO/s3tXFz.” He later tweeted a brief statement acknowledging the anniversary. “As painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with the lesson that no act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for – bo.”
A short time later, Obama adviser David Axelrod took to Twitter point out that Sheldon Adelson, a major Romney contributor, would benefit under a Romney presidency. “Yowza! Adelson bets big on Romney, and under Mitt’s tax scheme, the casino mogul would walk off with a $2 billion pot.”
In the early afternoon, after a report from Ha’aretz that Obama had rejected a request for a meeting from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior administration official acknowledged on background that with an election six weeks away the president had political interests and obligations that would be keeping him busy.
Later in the day, Politico reported that the Obama campaign was releasing a blistering new ad accusing the Romney-Ryan ticket of being “dangerous” for women. The ad opens in Obama’s voice: “I’m Barack Obama and I approved this message.” Then, young woman wearing her concern on her face, says: “Mitt Romney’s position on women’s health – it’s dangerous.” She accuses Romney and Ryan of seeking to “take away our basic health care.”
Tuesday evening, as news was streaming in from attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, Bill Clinton offered harsh attacks of Republicans to a crowd of more than 2,000 at an Obama campaign rally in south Florida. Clinton spent much of his speech demagoguing Medicare. But he also accused Romney and his party of a “militant, bitter anti-govermnent strategy.”
(Romney, meanwhile, gave a speech to the National Guard that largely avoided politics, and Paul Ryan dropped by a fire station in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and a campaign office in Waukesha.)
Shortly after midnight, just a few hours after the Bill Clinton’s event was finished, Obama campaign press secretary Ben La Bolt responded to the Romney campaign statement criticizing Obama. “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack.”
On Wednesday morning, Romney gave a press conference and reiterated his critique of Obama’s handling of the situations in Libya and Egypt. A short time later, President Obama read a statement from the Rose Garden, lamenting the loss of life in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. It was but a short pause from the daily bickering of partisan politics.
Not long after his Rose Garden statement, Obama sat for an interview with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes. Kroft asked Obama for his thoughts on Romney’s criticism. Obama said: “I think most Americans, Democrats or Republicans, understand that there are times where we set politics aside, and one of those is when we’ve got a direct threat to American personnel who are overseas.”
A few hours later, shortly after 2:00 p.m., Obama boarded Air Force One for Las Vegas, the first stop in a two-day campaign swing that includes a stop in Golden, Colorado, on Thursday. The campaign that never really stopped was back on. At a press gaggle en route, a reporter asked a question of White House press secretary, Jay Carney.
“This is not a time to try to score political points. As the President said, as a general practice, politics should be put aside when the lives of American personnel are at risk, as they were last night.”
So, when Clinton was speaking or when the campaign was unveiling its abortion ad? Carney didn’t say.
Another reporter asked a question of Jen Psaki, a spokesman for the Obama campaign. “Can you just elaborate a little bit more of what we can expect from the president at the event later today? Should we still be thinking of this as a campaign rally?”
So as the media pound Mitt Romney for allegedly violating the inviolable space around 9/11 and difficulties overseas, remember this about Barack Obama. He sought campaign volunteers and his top adviser launched a harsh attack on Romney early on 9/11. His top surrogate, Bill Clinton, let loose a tough attack on Romney and entitlements that evening. Obama rejected a meeting with a key ally potentially on the verge of war at least in part because he might need to be campaigning at the end of the month. And after a pause of his campaign activities that lasted approximately 14 ½ hours, the president resumed his normal campaign schedule with a trip to Las Vegas, where gave a speech that echoed his address to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last week.
Who’s being political?