The 3 a.m. factor

    National security won’t be the top-tier issue in 2012, but President Obama’s re-election advisers are clearly  confident that their guy will score with voters as a credible commander-in-chief. Case in point: the new campaign video, released today, which reminds everyone (in case anyone may have forgotten) that Obama made the call to whack Osama bin Laden.Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the raid in Pakistan. The Obama video is noteworthy for several reasons: It features plaudits from Bill Clinton, whose spouse had famously suggested, in her “3 a.m.” TV ad back in ’08, that Obama didn’t have the guts or moxie to perform in a crisis. It paints Mitt Romney as a feckless wuss who once dismissed the hunt for bin Laden as a waste of time (April 27, 2007: “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person”), and who criticized Obama in 2007 when the Democrat said he’d be willing to strike al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan.By the way, you’ve got to love that Romney “heaven and earth” quote, which was inexplicably under-reported three years ago. If a Democrat had ever uttered those words and suggested going soft on bin Laden, he would’ve been drawn and quartered and consigned to dwell in eternity with Jimmy Carter and George McGovern. Kudos to the rare journalist who noticed the Romney remarks at the time; in the ’07 words of conservative commentator Byron York, “Perhaps Romney should watch the tape of the planes hitting the towers again.”What the Obama ad signals, most importantly, is that the White House fully expects to engage and neutralize Romney on what has been traditionally deemed Republican turf: Keeping America Safe. The standard stereotype is that Democrats are more reluctant to pull the trigger, to order military action. But the drone assassinations of Al Qaeda leaders (there was another in Yemen this week), coupled with the hit job on Osama, have essentially erased the traditional GOP advantage on the security front. And, in the ad, Clinton seeks to underscore the point by painting Obama as a resolute 3 a.m.-er:”The president is the decider in chief. Nobody can make that decision for you. Look, he knew what would happen. Suppose the Navy Seals had gone in there and it hadn’t been bin Laden. Suppose they had been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him, but he reasoned I cannot in good conscience do nothing. He took the harder and the more honorable path and the one that produced in my opinion the best result.”(It’s telling that Clinton gets so much air time. Having long ago survived partisan controversy, he dwells in the bipartisan realm typically inhabited by popular former presidents. Team Obama clearly believes he’s an asset in a general election context.) Predictably, Obama is being attacked today not for what he did about bin Laden (that’s not grist for attack), but for invoking bin Laden in a campaign ad, for allegedly politicizing the raid in order to get re-elected. Team Romney says, “It’s now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try to distract voters’ attention from the failures of his administration.” Whatever. Presidents inevitably tout their records when they seek a second term; in an election year, politics and policy are fused. George W. Bush featured his national security record in 2004, using it as a trump card against John Kerry – and winning the female swing voters who were nicknamed “security moms.”And Romney will certainly continue to politicize the rest of the foreign policy realm, painting Obama as a failure in Iran, Syria, North Korea and other hotspots in order to get himself elected. That’s how the game is played. The real issue is whether Romney can gain any traction. The national polls report that a plurality of Americans support Obama’s handling of foreign policy – and a recent CNN-ORC International poll reported that Americans favor Obama over Romney in the job of commander-in-chief by a margin of 16 percentage points.Actually, if the Romney campaign hopes to close that gap, it might want to become more conversant with 21st century reality. In a phone chat with reporters yesterday, foreign policy adviser John Lehman complained that “we are seeing the Soviets pushing into the Arctic with no response from us.” The Soviet Union hasn’t existed since 1991. And during the same briefing, adviser Pierre Prosper complained that America comes off as weak in the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty: “We get nothing in return. The United States abandoned its missile defense sites in Poland and Czechoslovakia.” Czechoslovakia hasn’t existed since 1993.——-

    Quote of the week, from Newt Gingrich (who vows to leave the race next Tuesday): “I suspect people will still show up to hear me.”

    He said this yesterday in North Carolina, to an audience of 25 people in a roomful of empty chairs.

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    Follow me on Twitter @dickpolman1

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