A historian’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death

In no way am I trying to taint yesterday with politics; what follows is my assessment on its impact on our politics as a historian, and not as a liberal Democrat.

I certainly do not suggest that all of these outcomes are inevitable; I suggest that they are either possible, probably, or likely. I cannot predict the future, but the past is a good guide in instances such as these. And of course, some of these depend on if and in what way the President chooses to capitalize on this event. He may choose not to in any significant way.

But as a historian of 20th century US Politics, here is my instant reaction to the news about Bin Ladins death:

  • Very few people will profess that President Obama is not an American citizen after today. The percentage of those who believe that particular myth will fall.
  • President Obama’s popularity will skyrocket for a short period, and probably settle back down in the low 60′s. If unemployment continues to fall, he will probably stay there through the election.
  • The Republican Party is finished for the short term. It may well split. They have spent the last 3 years calling Obama every vile name in the book, and virtually no one is going to want to hear that now, at least in the short term. They have boxed themselves in by using such extremist language about the President that they cannot now climb back down from it in order to soak up some goodwill.
  • Palin, Gingrich, Trump, and Bachmann are all finished.
  • Some prominent names floated for the Republican Presidential Nomination will drop out of the race (or never enter it), because under most circumstances none of those currently mentioned can now defeat Obama, unless something terrible happens before the election.
  • Fox News will try to carry on the fight, but fewer people will be in the mood for its viciousness.
  • Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget is dead. Obama will now have tremendous leverage in putting together a less insane budget.
  • President Obama’s life is now in real mortal danger. The powers that be now realize they cannot, under most circumstances, defeat him in 2012 at the ballot box. I am certain we will see at least one attempt. (apart from conspiracy thinking, there are now some majorly angry terrorist cells with a lust for vengeance as well)
  • The mood of the nation will start to improve. While this does not change certain economic facts (the debt, etc.), a change in mood could have a tremendous impact on the nation. We really needed a win, and we just got one. People will start to feel better, at least in the short term. Again, that doesn’t change some things, but we just suffered through a bitter, humiliating decade and this will go a long way to lifting the nation’s spirits and hopefully return some rationality to our political debates.
  • Obama will lead the Democrats to a smashing victory in 2012. The Democratic Party will continually remind everyone that Obama is the one who killed him, and not Bush. The Republicans will be unable to attack him with the same amount of rage and vitriol, and therefore will not be able to use fear and hatred to attract votes as they have done since 2001.
  • The calls to speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan will grow.
  • The calls to cut defense spending will grow, as will the movement to tax the rich instead of cut services. Obama will come out strong in favor of the latter, if not the former.
  • The fact that Obama is now a hero will energize the left in this country after a long sleep. Democrats now have their Ronald Reagan.
  • Much of press will now move even more into the Obama camp; this means that many will be less willing to tolerate the irrational attacks on the President (and most of the attacks are irrational) because the viewing public won’t be in the mood to hear it.
  • The Republican Party may well now nominate former Governor Tim Pawlenty because he has not been out there saying terrible things about Obama, but is a conservative. I can’t think of anyone else that fits that bill (but I well may).
  • Conspiracy theories will pop up that this is a fraud, but few people will buy into it. These will be the “death certificate-ers.” If it is a fraud, why release the news at 11:00 on a Sunday night a year and a half before the election? Why not release it next October?
  • The Republicans have spent an entire decade waving this bloody flag, and President Obama just took it away from them. He promised to make bin Laden’s capture a top priority, and he fulfilled that promise. Suddenly a lot of other things he supports are going to make sense to more people.
  • Some or all of these predictions depend upon the notion that there will be no major terrorist attack between now and the 2012 elections, or some other national emergency or tragedy for which President Obama would have to take a share of the blame.
  • There will always be people who don’t like, and always be people who continue their irrational and rather obsessive hatred for him. But I think that the percentage of those people will fall. Thus everyone who built there reputation on hating Obama will suffer, because fewer people will be in the mood to hate him with such passion. No matter what, he will always be “the guy who got bin Laden.”
  • Americans love to back a winner. This has been proven many times over. Obama is now a winner, and a certain percentage of the population will shift to his side, even if they don’t fully understand why. People like to back winners because it makes them feel like they themselves are winners. (Think about how passionate people can be about their sports teams. Why are the Yankees popular? Because they win. It certainly isn’t because they a bunch of good people. But they win and so people like them.)

In 1981, 2 months after taking office, President Ronald Reagan’s popular support had begun to fall.

The recession didn’t seem to be getting better. Reagan had proposed a rather radical budget that slashed social spending and taxes, and the Democrats who controlled Congress were not interested. Then, in March, a young man obsessed with Jodi Foster named John Hinkley tried to assassinate Reagan.

As the oldest person ever elected, it didn’t seem likely that he’d survive. But he did. And he was back on the job fairly quickly. His popularity skyrocketed, and the Democrats in Congress caved in and voted for his irrational budget. Reaganomics was born out of the assassination attempt as much as the minds of willfully ignorant economists.

The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of the US military, on the promise of the President, is ten times more important (potentially) than the attempt on Reagan’s life.

Why? Because bin Laden gave us a black eye, if you take my meaning. Not only did he murder our fellow Americans, he showed us to be vulnerable. This scared the American people very deeply, and we have held bitter resentment and rage against him ever since then, for both reasons.

We can let that anger and rage and bitterness go now that he’s dead. Releasing that tension is incredibly significant to our road ahead. We can move on from 9/11 now, because the architect has been punished, finally, at long last, after years of disappointment and disaster. We will feel better because the person who hurt and humiliated us has now paid with his life.

This guest post written by shawnml2.