At last week’s Democratic National Convention first lady Michelle Obama said, “Today, after so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are — it reveals who you are.”
In many ways, the past few days have revealed a lot about both President Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. And the verdict is not at all flattering to Mitt Romney. Similar to the president’s opponents in previous campaigns, Romney has revealed himself to be an extremist or incompetent or both. Romney appears to be self-destructing, unable to respond in a measured tone to the president’s slow and reasoned pragmatism.
As the Obama administration tackles the tragic events in Egypt and Libya that left three Foreign Service Officers and the U.S. ambassador to Libya dead, the Romney campaign, in a brazen political move, decided to use the opportunity to attack the president’s foreign policy towards the Middle East.
In a hastily-released statement that the campaign blasted out to reporters before all facts on the ground were known, Romney said, “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
The response has garnered universal criticism from all sides. Even Republicans are calling the statement, an “utter disaster” and that Romney is “not ready for prime time,” based on the fact that the statement includes two false claims – that the White House had issued an official statement and that a statement that was issued came after the violence began — and attacked the president during an international crisis as events were still unfolding. There is something to be said about Obama opponents doing themselves in with no help from Obama, going back to his Senate campaign in 2004.
President Obama has a history of opponents who have gone down in defeat largely due to self-inflicted wounds. Jack Ryan, his Republican opponent for an Illinois U.S. Senate seat in 2004, was embroiled in a sex scandal which forced him to drop out of the race. Ryan’s replacement, Alan Keyes, was fiercely homophobic and his utterly bizarre rhetoric alienated voters.
In 2008, Senator John McCain hastily suspended his campaign when Lehman brothers collapsed. In response, Obama did what he has always done; remained calm, cool and collected, and emphasized that a president needs to be able to handle more than one crisis at a time.
Presidential campaigns can sometimes appear to be silly, with daily battles to win news cycles dictating coverage instead of in-depth discussions of real issues. But there are sometimes moments when a crisis comes along that is large enough for each side to show the American people what they are made of. Mitt Romney, like Obama challengers before him, has demonstrated his complete lack of foreign policy knowledge and tact in order to attack the president in line with a narrative he invented about the president that doesn’t resemble reality.
It remains unclear whether Romney’s desperation is in response to polling data going in the wrong direction or whether the president’s measured actions allow for opponents to project things on him that aren’t actually there to fit their own invented realities based on ideology.
What is clear is that President Obama has been tested throughout his presidency with challenges from all sides, foreign and domestic. He’s repeatedly shown an ability to respond carefully to any 3 a.m. test that comes his way, frustrating opponents and revealing them to be unfit to lead. That is exactly what is happening right now with Mitt Romney who appears to be having his “Lehman moment.”
With no help from the president, another one of Obama’s challengers could be going down in flames.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell