Debating Obama's 2012 Run: Bin Laden's Killing Shows Leadership

Immediately following President Barack Obama’s announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden, his poll numbers bounced and many political commentators and pundits suggested that this raid would all but ensure Obama’s reelection in 2012. But now, two weeks after the announcement, his poll numbers are back down. Was the speculation surrounding his certain re-election in 2012 premature?

Yes, and no.

While it is by definition premature to predict the outcome of an election that is more than a year away, the question isn’t really about a prediction of the outcome of the election but more so about whether or not the killing of bin Laden would help or hurt Obama in the general election. And no, it is not premature to assert that this operation will certainly help Obama.

Politics is about narratives and images, and the killing of bin Laden has provided a powerful set of both that will strengthen Obama’s national security credentials in the upcoming election. The photograph from the situation room during the operation coupled with details that reveal Obama as the mastermind behind the operation (a point even conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh concedes) serve to create a narrative of a president who not only takes America’s security seriously but also has a rare capability to make reasoned decisions under pressure. This is a president who can crack jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner one moment and lead a team of national security advisors moments later. This is a president in full command – even while playing nine holes of golf.

Despite this national security narrative, some have argued that this credibility will not help Obama in 2012 because of the dismal state of the U.S. economy.

While the economy will most likely be the major issue in the 2012 presidential election, Obama’s newfound national security credibility will silence his rivals in debates over national security and terror – an area in which Obama was often attacked during the 2008 presidential election. Further, the killing of bin Laden will help to solidify a narrative on the economy that the Obama administration has been trying to push – that the problems of the economy are resultant from the Bush era and it will take time to fix them. Obama’s leadership in finding and killing bin Laden in just two years shows that although he inherited many problems that were left unsolved by the Bush administration, his administration can and will solve them. Finally, despite Obama’s weak job numbers, Republicans have yet to provide any legitimate plans on the economy that would sway an Independent voter. Proposing to alter Medicare and to decrease taxes for those in the highest income earners is not a winning solution. 

Although it is impossible to predict the future, it is clear that Obama’s successful raid on Al Qaeda’s leader has strengthened his chances in 2012.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Matthew Clair

Matthew Clair is a PhD student in sociology at Harvard. He regularly contributes to The Diverse Arts Project.

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