There comes a time in any presidential election when reality slips into the mist of admen. Thoughtfulness and truth make an exit to create room for political bedtime stories.
One of the most effective modern examples featured a black man from Massachusetts by the name of Willie Horton. He earned a life sentence without possibility of parole for murder. But thanks to a liberal state furlough program, Horton roamed free on weekends under the guise that such practice rehabilitated prisoners. On one such weekend pass in 1986, Willie Horton never returned to prison. Free for almost a year, he traveled to Maryland, where he raped a woman.
When Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis ran for president in 1988, his primary Democratic rival, Al Gore, used the furlough program to hammer Dukakis, even though Dukakis didn’t invent the program or directly have anything to do with Horton’s weekend pass. As a progressive thinker, though, Dukakis thought the program had merit, and that put Dukakis in the political vicinity of the crime.
In the fall of 1988, Republican admen forever linked Horton and Dukakis with brutal television ads on the weekend passes. Whatever the Horton tie-in lacked in honesty, it made up for it in political effectiveness. It devastated the Dukakis campaign.
Democrats at the time called the ad fundamentally untrue. Even racist.
Funny how they’re strangely quiet now as President Barack Obama went full-out Willie Horton on presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney last week. Obama admen unleashed a most specious television ad that suggested Romney probably … might … perhaps … just maybe … weather permitting … would not have pulled the trigger on the operation to kill Osama bin Laden.
The ad begins righteously enough, extolling the merits of President Obama’s decision to green-light the operation to kill the al-Qaida leader. It was a good call. It was a gutsy call. It was probably … might … perhaps … just maybe … weather permitting … was the best decision Obama has made, or will ever make, in his short political career.
Obama admen used this isolated quote from 2007 to make the connection: “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars, just trying to catch one person,” Romney told The Associated Press. “(Osama bin Laden) is by no means the only leader.”
Of course, it is a leap of extraordinary proportions to stretch that quote into a guess about what Romney might or might not have done given the same circumstances that Obama faced the night he authorized Navy SEAL Team 6 to kill bin Laden.
Ryan Zinke, a former commander in the U.S. Navy who spent 23 years as a SEAL and led a SEAL Team 6 assault unit, makes another point on the Romney assertion: “The decision was a no-brainer. I applaud (President Obama) for making it, but I would not overly pat myself on the back for making the right call.”
So, let’s take the Obama line of thinking a step further. If, as President Obama says in his ad, making the right call on killing bin Laden is a litmus test for the presidency, then why is he keeping Vice President Joe Biden on the ticket? Biden himself advised against the raid on bin Laden’s headquarters on the grounds that it might go badly and look bad politically.
“It got to me,” Biden said. “I said, ‘Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go.’ ”
Leon Panetta, then director of the CIA, was the only Obama insider to unequivocally tell the president “go.” It was a no-brainer, but Obama had to sleep on it before proceeding.
So, ahem, Mr. No Brainer, why do you make such a big deal questioning a hypothetical about what Romney might have done in your shoes when you damn well absolutely, positively know the guy you’re running with does not possess the judgment and guts to be president? By your own definition, Biden doesn’t have the right stuff. Shouldn’t Panetta replace him?
As long as anything goes in this bedtime story, how about Willie Horton? He’s probably rehabilitated by now.
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/sherm.