I've been more the occasionally amused but largely apathetic spectator of recent political events. Other than occasional notes on Charlie Pierce columns in Esquire that attempt some humor, I haven't been this blase about a looming Presidential election in many years. On the one hand are the Republican rivals, currently involved in a primary campaign the singular goal of which seems to be to out-crazy one another, invoking the name of the incumbent President without any reference to anything he's actually done, or not done. Because I do not allow my children to hear lies, I am keeping them from the Republican primary campaign as much as possible. If they want fantasy, I push Tolkien's books in to their hands.
On the other hand, there's our incumbent. He needs to answer many questions. He needs to be challenged, substantively, on indefinite detention and the elimination of habeas corpus; on a policy of assassinating American citizens; on the use of UAVs in domestic policing activities; on the too-small stimulus and and monetary policy that seems more thrashing than rational; on participation in the Libyan Civil War, on-going combat operations in Pakistan, the nature of our military presence in Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines; on our opening to Burma. I could go on, but you get the idea. Presidential campaigns rarely concern themselves with the minutiae of actual governance. I understand and accept that. At the very least, however, the press and Republicans could be taking him to task on these and a host of other issues. Instead, because their base is entranced by a vision of the President that bears no semblance to the man or his policies, everything else just kind of slides on by.
For example, the other night was the Constitutionally mandated State of the Union. The Constitution merely states that the President shall give a report on the State of the Union to Congress. Up until the days of television, this usually involved sending a letter to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate that was read in to the record. It has become, over the years, grand political theater. I awoke Wednesday morning to discover, to my surprise, that President Obama had outdone previous Presidents in his staging and set decorations.
Navy SEALs rescued two American hostages held in Somalia at the same time the President was lauding our military's finest and their record during his term. It has been impressive. In his first year, they stormed a pirate vessel in the Indian Ocean, rescuing some Americans held prisoner, killing some of the pirates and bringing home at least one to face trial. A trial for piracy . . . Visions of Jack Sparrow. . .
Of course, the feather in the SEALs watch-caps - a richly deserved one - is the operation that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Obama mentions that quite often; in his SOTU, he talked about being given the flag the team had with them on that mission. No doubt, as a patriotic American, his role as C-in-C in ordering and green-lighting that particular operation should give him enormous pride. The expansion of counter-intelligence and special operations over the past couple years, and the success of these operations (the SEALs are without a doubt the single best unit in this, or any, military), raise questions, however, not so much on questions of the wisdom of this or that op; rather they raise questions on the level of policy and practice.
Except last night. While it is nice that the SEALs did their job, as usual, effectively and successfully; while I celebrate the return of Americans held captive by bandits and thieves in a far away land; forgive me for being cynical enough to suspect the timing of this particular op. It is one thing to support, even promote, the use of special forces in new and emerging tactical situations. It is one thing to laud the performance of the SEALs, Army Rangers, the USMC, and others who do this kind of work so well.
Using the SEALs and this op as a backdrop for a political speech, however, is disgusting. I remember when liberals used to roll their eyes when Reagan used fighter-jet fly-bys at outdoor events.