Maybe we’re a serious country, after all. The men of the Navy’s Seal Team 6 lifted the spirits of a nation deep in the shallows of a season of the blues and blahs. Barack Obama, just when we thought he was not capable of making hard decisions, sent the message loud and clear to evildoers everywhere: “Mess with the Americans at your peril.”
The last sight in Osama bin Laden’s eyes just before he was consigned to eternity were the faces of determined young Americans; his last glimpse of this life was of the cold steel of American guns. Then it was off to collect his virgins. He got the burial at sea appropriate to Mafia dons dispatched to feed the fishes, minus whatever body parts deemed useful to the forensic pathologists seeking clues to the evil between Osama’s scurvy ears.
Only churls would deny Mr. Obama his share of the triumph of American arms, or George W. Bush his share of the credit for organizing the decade-long search that finally led to the architect of Sept. 11. Even Jimmy Carter deserves some of the credit. The planners of the raid that nailed Osama learned from Mr. Jimmy’s badly botched attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages three decades ago. The planners looked at the errors of that fiasco in the desert and made sure they didn’t repeat them. Mr. Jimmy denied his soldiers what they needed to succeed, the attempt failed, and 12 fine young Americans paid with their lives for Mr. Jimmy’s lack of manly resolve. This time everyone came home.
Mr. Obama generously decided to give Osama bin Laden what could be called “a modified Christian burial,” meaning his grubby body was washed according to Muslim custom, and it didn’t get what it deserved, which was to be buried in the desert with the entrails of pigs. That was how Gen. John J. Pershing dispatched Islamic terrorists in the Philippines before World War I. But the president correctly noted that the United States is not at war with Islam, though the usual rioting, the entertainment of the Muslim masses, began almost at once. (By declining to follow Gen. Pershing’s example, the president also avoided giving offense to PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.) Besides, if Osama had been captured alive and brought back for trial, Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, might have found a way to sabotage justice.
Mr. Obama is entitled to bask in the reflected glory of Seal Team 6 and the soldiers who gave support to the mission, but he must enjoy it while he can. The pundits and the players are already calculating the effects of the Osama-killing on the 2012 campaign. The short-term gain should be considerable, but a year from now - maybe even a month from now - a lot of voters will be asking the inevitable question of Mr. Obama: “What have you done for me lately?”
The factors driving down Mr. Obama’s closely watched approval ratings - his three wars, the sickly economy, the price of gasoline, unemployment and what Jimmy Carter would call malaise - are with him, and us, yet. You can peddle “hope” and shill for “change” only if you’re the innocent incumbent. Once in office, a new president quickly becomes the villain when things go bad and the only credible hope is that “change” means changing presidents. “In a way,” Democratic consultant Rachel Gorlin tells John Harwood of CNBC, “[Mr.] Obama’s biggest obstacle to overcome in 2012 is Obama 2008. Voters just get this overall impression of things being out of control; that change hasn’t happened. It’s going to be one of the toughest runs for an incumbent president and his party in a long time.”
This assessment goes sharply athwart the prevailing wisdom, particularly among gleeful Democrats cheered by the stubborn reluctance of some Republicans to discard the birther issue and their eagerness to embrace the weird and suspect Donald Trump. Now the president has trumped the birth-certificate issue and Donald Trump himself is on his way to the sidelines. Nevertheless, a growing number of Democratic consultants and other campaign wannabes are concluding that Mr. Obama shouldn’t take comfort in the weak Republican field, because it might not remain weak. Says one: “If Democrats think they can sleep through the ‘12 campaign, they’ll be sleeping through the next four years.”
The killing of Osama bin Laden won’t change that. Politics, with its surprises, is with us always.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.