Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How not to be a one-term wonder

   In the news business, advance obituaries are written even for public figures in the best of health. Because you never know.

   So, those who gleefully predicted Barack Obama's early demise last November can still hold onto their frantic tomes. Because you never know.

   However, what happened in the Pakistani night a few days ago was not the stuff of "one term and out," if "Mission Accomplished" is something to which voters hold their leaders. And we recall from 2004 that the claim can be effective even if later rescinded.

    Not that they desired to see American servicemen's lives squandered in a botched raid, as with Jimmy Carter's 1980 Desert One debacle. But, let's face it: 

    The hate-Obama automatons would have danced a robot jig had such a disastrous fate visited our Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, or if an empty-handed mission had embarrassed the nation in the world's eyes.

    It didn't.

    So, wow. In so many dimensions, what a daring call, and what a result.

     What a reminder of the stakes of governing, as opposed to the stakes of posturing, and throwing spaghetti at the refrigerator door to see what sticks.

     What buffoonery we now recall. Two weeks ago Donald Trump was actually still getting mileage, and points in Republican polls, with his pathetic birther inquisition.

     And few could be less deserving of a rostrum on the day after than Sarah Palin. Yet at a "salute the troops" fund-raiser, she praised George W. Bush for his role in killing bin Laden and didn't mention the man who made the call that carried it out.

      Palin will always be able to rouse a crowd. But that audience seems vastly more marginalized. And, heck, it was only a matter of months ago that Glenn Beck was ruling the cable airwaves and tea parties were going to rule the world.

    Nothing that happened over the last few days in Pakistan assures Obama's re-election. One thinks back to George H.W. Bush after the triumphant return of American service personnel from driving Iraq's forces out of Kuwait. At the time, who could have imagined that Bush would be politically vulnerable?

    However, the resonance of a military victory faded almost immediately. Bush lost to a relatively unknown governor from Arkansas.

    I distinctly remember an economic oddity in 1991 as American troops paraded home, a footnote that said more about Bush's political viability than anything else even after the roaring success of Desert Storm.

    The story: For one moment, the American balance of trade deficit had evaporated. For a moment, the United States had a trade surplus. Why? Because we had essentially contracted with the world community to do the dirty work in Kuwait: our services there sold for billions of dollars from countries like Japan, happy to watch from the sidelines. To use a benign analogy, we had provided pest-control service. To use something more blunt, we had become a mercenary nation. We invaded for pay.

    Bill Clinton didn't campaign against Bush as a military mastermind. He came talking about retooling an economy that was being routed by Japan. He didn't talk about outer-space missile shields. He talked about technology that could translate into jobs.

     And, so, how does Barack Obama avoid the fate of George H.W. Bush, who lost his bid for re-election on the heels of a stunning military achievement? He turns away from military achievements.

    He convinces Americans that the end is near in Afghanistan, that troops are coming home, that a political process has supplanted a military process.

    He counters GOP efforts to gut domestic spending by proposing deep cuts in military spending. He contrasts the imperative of confronting needs at home with those world-policing obligations to which Americans have been saddled for decades at a price beyond imagining.

     How does Obama become a two-term president? He convinces Americans that we can make more than war.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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