by Jack Hunter
When I used to blast President Bush for being the most big government president in history at that date, my fellow conservatives would remind me that “Bush kept us safe.” In other words, despite doubling the Department of Education through No Child Left Behind, giving us the largest entitlement expansion since Lyndon Johnson with Medicare Plan D, TARP, bank and auto bailouts, and the doubling of our national debt—Bush should still be considered a success for preventing another 9/11 from occurring. Never mind that 9/11 happened on Bush’s watch. Never mind that by these parameters it could also be said that Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter “kept us safe.” What matters is that many Republicans still retain and defend this narrative, or as Governor Jeb Bush reminded his party of his brother during this year’s Republican National Convention: “During incredibly challenging times… he kept us safe.”
Now, Barack Obama “keeps us safe.” As of this writing, the final presidential debate, a foreign policy debate, has yet to take place. But if this year’s Democratic National Convention gave us any idea of what to expect, the President can not only brag that he has prevented another 9/11 from taking place during his watch, he can make the biggest boast of all—Obama killed Osama.
Using the “Bush kept us safe” logic, Mitt Romney shouldn’t even be running right now and Republicans should be rewarding Obama with their vote. But this is not happening, to say the least. Conservatives accuse Obama of being a disaster, and by most conventional measures—unemployment numbers, tax increases, skyrocketing spending—Obama has been a disaster. The bureaucratic nightmare ObamaCare poses could dwarf Bush’s entitlement expansions while also wrecking American healthcare. Obama has given us economic stimulus that didn’t stimulate and promised “change” that has yet to materialize. Even on the issues that once animated the Left so angrily against Bush—foreign policy and civil liberties—Obama has only given us more war, spying and drone strikes.
Obama just might be the worst president in American history. Still, “he kept us safe.”
Such jargon is a study in partisanship. By any rational assessment, Bush was a disaster for conservatives, if limited government icons like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan still have any claim on that label. Likewise, with the arguable exception of ObamaCare, liberals really don’t have much tangible to cheer for Obama over. Yet Republicans and Democrats rationalize their respective leaders’ record as successful based on premises both conservatives and liberals would reject if detached from the personalities involved. Ask most Republicans: “Would you support a Republican president who made Bill Clinton look conservative?” You would get a resounding “no.” Ask most Democrats: “Would you support a Democratic president who made Dick Cheney look liberal?” You would probably get an even more resounding “no.”
But majorities of Republicans and Democrats do support them. Vociferously. It is their team. It is partisanship over philosophy, politics over principle, faith over fact.
In their foreign policy debate, the best arguments Obama could possibly use against Romney will be rhetoric rooted in the Bush-era. “Obama kept us safe” coupled with flouting his killing of Bin Laden is a foreign policy Romney will find hard to convince most Americans is “weak.”
But what it does force at least conservatives to acknowledge is that the lack of a terrorist attack on American soil—measuring success by what hasn’t happened—is not only a bizarre method of judging but certainly not good enough to excuse the rest of the President’s record.
Imagine a husband and father who manages to feed and shelter his family, but who also cheats on his wife, ignores his children, depletes his savings, racks up massive debt and leaves his family with an uncertain future. Still, he somewhat protected his family for the time being. No one would think him a good husband, father or man. That no physical harm was done to his family would not be good enough.
The government is not, or should not, be our keeper, but if the best praise we can give presidents is that they “keep us safe,” we exhibit the mindset of children. We are essentially giving leaders credit for nothing happening—while allowing this praise to obscure what they do that is demonstrably horrible.
Obama is demonstrably horrible. But he did keep us safe. So what?