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Saturday, Nov 03 2012 10:00 PM

ROGER SIMON: The right's 'Swift-Boating' of Obama has failed

By The Bakersfield Californian

Obama should have been destroyed by now. That was the plan. He was going to be "Swift Boated" in this election, just like John Kerry was in 2004.

It would be about Benghazi, where on Sept. 11 of this year, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. This would be the spear point that would fatally wound the Obama campaign.

It would be a classic smear: The Obama administration had delivered a "stand down" order to potential rescuers, and so the four Americans had died.

Why would any agency or anybody in the administration do such a thing? It didn't matter. Wingnuts can always find motives. There are still people who say Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster. Whole books have been written about that one.

There are legitimate questions to be answered about what happened at Benghazi. There always are questions after such tragedies. Warnings were ignored by the George W. Bush administration before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, after all. Were warnings ignored in Libya? Hindsight will probably find some.

And Ambassador Stevens would hardly have ventured to Benghazi with inadequate protection if he thought there were legitimate warnings not to do so.

So a different narrative, a different point of attack, would have to be found for Benghazi. On Oct. 26, Fox News reported that urgent requests for military backup during the attacks in Benghazi "was denied by officials in the CIA chain of command -- who also told the CIA operators twice to 'stand down' rather than help the ambassador's team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11."

The CIA and State Department denied it, but "stand down" would become the rallying cry for the far right.

It not only appears everywhere on social media, but on Friday Obama was on his way to a rally at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard, Ohio, when, according to the White House press pool report, it "passed small groups of onlookers, including a slightly larger cluster holding signs related to Benghazi such as: 'We won't stand down ... Benghazi' and 'What are you hiding?'" But Benghazi has proved to be not dynamite, but a firecracker. The October surprise has not turned into a bombshell. Instead, it has bombed.

Romney might have made it an issue, but he blew two chances. In the second presidential debate, Romney delivered a muddled attack as to whether the administration had called the killings a terrorist act quickly enough. Then Romney finally managed to remember his talking point.

"But I find more troubling than this, that on -- on the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador ... when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn't know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, other political event," Romney said.

But Obama was ready. He had rehearsed, too. "The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families."

Romney then eagerly leapt into a parsing battle (which he lost) as to whether Obama actually had called it "an act of terror." But who cares what Obama called it? It is far more important if Obama failed to protect American lives. Why didn't Romney pursue that?

It was a mistake and one he failed to correct in the final debate when moderator Bob Schieffer raised it in his very first question. But Romney muddled about again: "We see in -- in -- in Libya an attack apparently by -- well, I think we know now by terrorists of some kind against -- against our people there, four people dead. Our hearts and minds go to them."

So Romney blew it. And the Obama administration responded Thursday with an extensive tick-tock of events stating that help was rushed to Benghazi and there was no stand-down order.

David Ignatius, the highly respected columnist and associate editor of the Washington Post, who had been vigorous in demanding more information about Benghazi, wrote online Thursday: "While there were multiple errors that led to the final tragedy, there's no evidence that the White House or CIA leadership deliberately delayed or impeded rescue efforts."

Not that the Romney campaign couldn't find diehard conspiracy advocates. John McCain, who has been determined for the past four years to stamp out any admiration he once earned for being a principled "maverick," told Fox News Thursday that the Obama administration was engaged in "a classic scandal and cover-up" that "could be as bad as Watergate." Worse, actually, since "nobody died in Watergate."

"I think it can have an impact [on the election] because we've still got five more days," McCain said hopefully.

But it won't. There have been enough domestic smears, slurs and lies in this election that we don't have to go looking for them in Benghazi.

Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist.

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