On Wednesday’s program, Mr. Stewart asked the president whether his administration was trying to fix the alleged communications disconnects that the White House claims muddled the response to the violent events in Benghazi, Libya and elsewhere on Sept. 11. “Even you would admit,” Mr. Stewart said, “it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page.” Mr. Obama responded, “Here’s what I’ll say. If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.”
The expression “not optimal” became instant fodder for tweets, Internet memes and other contemporary expressions of electronic discontent. Matt Drudge ran the quote as his essential website’s main headline for an entire day. Mr. Obama’s defenders point out that Mr. Stewart was the one who used the expression first, but the question was about White House communications management. Mr. Obama was the one who chose to apply the “not optimal” phrase to dead Americans. Some say it was understatement by design, a means of emphasizing the point, like casually referring to the destabilizing violence sweeping the Middle East as “bumps in the road.” Given the context of the Benghazi tragedy and the continuing furor over White House attempts to redefine the event as a spontaneous mob action instead of a planned, focused terrorist attack, Mr. Obama should have known better.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the answer was “just so inappropriate” and added, “I’m sure that the families of those brave Americans are not amused.” Indeed not. Pat Smith, mother of State Department official Sean Smith, told London’s Daily Mail, “It’s insensitive to say my son is not very optimal — he is also very dead. I’ve not been ‘optimal’ since he died and the past few weeks have been pure hell.” The government has still not given Mrs. Smith — or anyone else — an honest, straightforward explanation of what happened to her son.
Mr. Obama’s tactless gaffe comes amidst the controversy generated at Tuesday night’s presidential debate when moderator Candy Crowley misrepresented Mr. Obama’s response to the Benghazi attack. The public has generally held a negative view of the administration’s handling of the jihadist victory. A Pew Research Center survey found that a majority of those who have been following the Benghazi story disapprove of Mr. Obama’s response, with disapproval among independents leading by 30 points.
Pew also found that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney now “run about even on most foreign policy issues.” That’s quite a change from September, when Mr. Obama enjoyed a 15-point lead. Going into Monday’s debate on foreign policy, Mr. Obama’s insensitive statement was, at least for his team, not optimal.
The Washington Times