Misunderstanding the “Osama” Bounce

A number of Beltway pundits have remarked upon the effect that bringing justice to Osama bin Laden had on President Barack Obama’s approval ratings. The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Obama enjoyed a brief “Osama bounce” in polling. Now, with yet more bad economic news, Mr. Obama’s Osama bounce has faded.

This is a complete misunderstanding of what the killing of Osama bin Laden actually means for the president.

A “bounce” in one’s approval ratings is the result of a fleeting event which temporarily makes one look good, but which nobody will remember in a year. The political conventions that take place during every presidential election result in bounces. Modern political conventions make the presidential nominee look good, but nothing meaningful ever happens in them.

Another example of a bounce: Mr. Obama’s well-received speech after Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting. This was a fleeting event which temporarily made Mr. Obama look good. But the average American probably has already forgotten who Ms. Giffords even is. (Don’t believe me? Try testing your neighbor.)

In contrast, nobody will forget the death of Osama bin Laden for a long, long time. When the history books are written one hundred years later, they will still mention it.

Politically, Bin Laden’s death means far more than just a mere “Osama bounce” for the president. It rips an enormous hole through the Republican critique of Mr. Obama on foreign policy.

This critique is best described by the titles of two articles by conservative magazines The Weekly Standard and The National Review. Their titles are “A Leader From Behind” and “The Embarrassed Superpower.” Republican criticize Mr. Obama as weak on national security, uninterested in American exceptionalism, too apologetic for America’s mistakes, and so on. It’s a very classical critique of any Democratic politician.

That Mr. Obama’s administration brought the Al-Qaeda leader to justice fundamentally works against these themes. How can one say that the president apologizes too much after Bin Laden’s death? How can one say that the president is too “soft” after he ordered one of the most macho operations in American history?

In essence, Bin Laden’s death has sealed off foreign policy as an avenue for the 2012 Republican nominee to criticize the president. Republicans will fight the 2012 presidential election on the economy and on domestic policy. They may win; they may lose. But due to his administration’s success in bringing the world’s number one terrorist to justice, Mr. Obama looks set to be pretty much invincible in the realm of foreign policy come 2012.

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