Show some class, Mr. President

On the evening of May 1, 2011, I was settled in for a quiet night. My cellphone was dead, nothing was on television, and I was half asleep on my couch ready to go to bed.

Suddenly, as I continued to slip in and out of consciousness, I started seeing pictures of the White House on my screen. I read the text below the pictures, which said that we were awaiting a major announcement from the president.

Presidential addresses are rather unusual that late at night so I knew something important had to have happened. Adrenaline began coursing through my body as I started to hear the pundits speculate what might be going on, a feeling that was only amplified when I logged into Twitter to see the words “Osama bin Laden” and “dead” being repeated ad nauseam.

The rest is history. The president announced what the country had been longing to hear for an entire decade. Spontaneous, celebratory rallies broke out at the gates of the White House and downtown Manhattan and a sense of relieved satisfaction captured our country.

Not wanting to miss the historic occasion, I got up, got dressed and drove to the White House to join the celebration. It was quite a surreal experience with the streets of Washington, D.C., alive with honking cars, screaming college students and more waving American flags than you are likely to ever see again.

One of my favorite images from that night was a group of Marines who had climbed a tree outside the gate to the White House and were proudly waving both a Marine Corps flag and the Stars and Stripes as a crowd gathered around them to applaud and scream out “thank you.” Hard not to be proud at that moment.

In the aftermath of the operation that killed bin Laden, I thought the president handled himself magnificently. He did not “spike the football” as is so customary in the politics of national security, but rather let the entire saga speak for itself. The focus was clearly SEAL Team Six and as a result the White House got some glowing coverage of its role as a bonus.

I was paying very close attention that night and the right was almost universally in praise of the president. The consensus seemed to be that Obama deserved credit for the mission being a priority and making a difficult, risky call that paid off. I saw virtually no criticism and I myself heaped copious praise on the commander in chief.

Sadly, that dignified, respectful behavior has come to an end, coinciding with the beginning of the 2012 general election.

In the past week, using the anniversary of the raid as cover, the White House has morphed into a nakedly political, inappropriate and opportunistic machine, attempting to extract as much electoral benefit for the president as possible. Campaign commercials, opportunistic interviews, offensive soundbites and unending political activity attempting to capitalize on the raid by framing it as a heroic presidential decision and barely mentioning the SEALS is now the norm.

As somebody who was so proud of a president of the opposite party for his adult, statesmanlike response to a major success, I find this all the more disappointing.

The president approved the plan and it was a gutsy call. But the SEALs are the ones that risked their lives and executed that plan, not the president, and any attempt to take a political victory lap on their backs is, in my opinion, disrespectful and wrong.

Strutting about the bin Laden raid is in horrendously bad taste. It is immature, it is grandstanding, political, phony and worst of all it is disrespectful to the anonymous soldiers who could have died in that raid but have to remain in the shadows. These men do not themselves get to take a victory lap in public in celebration of their deed.

As long as those SEALs remain unrecognized, it is inappropriate for their commander in chief to attempt to accumulate political points as a result of their sacrifice.

When heroes go unheralded and politicians claim credit, something is very wrong. Let your decisions speak for themselves, Mr. President, and honor the sacrifice of the men who actually risked their lives in that raid.

The irony is that you probably would gain more political benefit and earn more respect if you showed some class. This is not the new kind of politics that you promised us.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.