Rep. Harris On Being Admirable, Steadfast, and Genuine

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Rep. Justin Harris (left) with someone else who deserves more credit than President Obama.

I was glad that Jeff wrote the piece earlier today about how President Obama deserved credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden for two reasons.  First, it proved that Jeff was still alive, which was something that we all (read: I) worried about. Second, the right-wing assertion that President Obama was just in the right place at the right time irritated me to the point that I didn’t think I could get through a post on the issue without getting all ad hominem-y (mmmm…hominy).

Unfortunately for my sanity, I noticed that Rep. Justin Harris (R-87, Prairie Grove) had written a Facebook note that he’d given the awkwardly phrased title, “Giving Credit Where It Belongs.” Ignoring my better instincts, I clicked the link in his Twitter feed and read the note.

[Editor’s note: This is where you would see me shaking my head slowly with a pained look on my face if you were in the room with me.]

My initial reaction was to fisk the entire note, but, honestly, too much of my commentary for the first half of his note was going to be flippant remarks about his punctuation, grammar, and word choice. No need to water down my real point with that stuff.

Instead, I want to focus on the parts that tie in to Jeff’s post.

There was one person in my mind that stood out as a firm and reassuring person during the time of crisis for our Nation, President George W. Bush. Then, finally[,] our present leader, President Barack Obama[,] came on the television and started speaking.

My wife, my oldest son, and myself [sic] listened[,] hanging on to every word he said. I had two persistent thoughts in my head, but I said nothing. Then my son spoke up and [asked], “Daddy, why is he taking the credit for everything[?]” He said what I was thinking. I have issue with any leader, great or small, that talks in [the] first person, hardly ever using the word [“]WE.[“] President Obama talked about how he ordered the strategic capture of Bin Laden, dead or alive. He also stated that he ordered the shooting.

Here’s the video:

Looking ONLY at situations where the I/me/we was describing who did what or who should get credit for what, by my count, we get:

Number of times President Obama said “I” or “me” during the speech: 13 (11 I, 2 me).
Number of times President Obama said “we” during the speech: 28

Lest ye doubt me, here is the context of all of President Obama’s “I” references:

  • I can report to the American people and the World that the United States has conducted…”
  • I directed Leon Panetta…
  • I was briefed…
  • I met with my national security…
  • I determined … and I authorized…
  • I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did after 9/11
  • I’ve repeatedly made clear that we
  • I called President Zardari…
  • …weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief…
  • Let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten…
  • I know that [the sense of unity that arose after 9/11] has at times frayed…

Contrast that with the 28 “we” statements, many of which preceded all but one of the “I” statements. In fact, if you want to take Harris’s point a little further, though I can’t imagine why you would, I might add that President Obama referenced the troops and counter-intelligence personnel (including references to “they”) seven times, he referred to “us” three times, he referenced the “United States” as a group four times (only once did he include the disclaimer “at my direction”), and he made reference to “Americans” (including “they” references) 10 times. On top of all that, he also used “our” as an adjective eight times, speaking about “our commitment” and “our sacrifices” among other things.

What can we take from this? Well, (a) the two examples given by Harris of how President Obama took all the credit came from two sentences in a nearly ten-minute speech; (b) that the “I” statements were greatly outnumbered by statements that gave credit to others or to all of us; and (c) the only times President Obama used the “I” phrasing was when he was mentioning something that he actually did. It would not have made much sense to say that “we directed Leon Panetta” or that “we authorized” the attack. (Indeed, if he had said this, I have no doubt that certain people would be chastising him for abrogating his duty as Commander-in-Chief to be the one who calls the shots.)

During the speech my other thought was, [“]I’m so thankful for the leadership of President George W. Bush and his persistent leadership on terrorism.[“] He was admirable and steadfast. He had a knack [for] calming the American People when it came to the War on Terrorism (not talking about the economy).

Regarding the first sentence: Where Harris sees “persistent leadership on terrorism”, I see a President who used the amorphous “War on Terror” to justify a needless and costly war in Iraq?, to create the largest bureaucracy in the federal government, to justify torture at Guantanamo, to suspend habeas corpus and other liberties as much as possible, and to give tacit approval to illegal wiretaps of American citizens’ phones. On some level, I suppose we are both correct in our interpretations here.

That said, I really wish Harris and others who are seeking to minimize President Obama’s role would recognize President Bush’s failures. Do I think that President Bush deserves credit in all of this? Sure, he deserves whatever credit you want to give to someone who was willing to go to war to track down the mastermind of 9/11. That credit, however, has to be tempered to some degree in light of President Bush’s making Osama bin Laden a secondary concern (by President Bush’s own admission) and failing to capitalize on the opportunity at Tora Bora.

Regarding the second half of that blockquote, all I can really say is “huh?”  I have to be honest.  That parenthetical is so oddly worded and placed that I’m not entirely sure what Harris is trying to say.  I assume it’s an attempt to be snarky about President Obama, mainly because I don’t think Harris would insert the equivalent of “President Bush was not calming when he spoke about the economy” in this paean to President Bush.

Except, assuming we’re talking about President Obama, it’s still weird.  I mean, I didn’t hear President Obama talk about the economy in this speech, nor do I particularly recall any other speech where the focus should have been on terrorism and was, instead, on the economy. I don’t remember any speeches about the economy that failed to “calm the American People” regarding national security.

On the other hand, I do recall President Bush asserting ad nauseum that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that, if we did not invade, it was only a matter of time before Saddam Hussein gave those weapons to Al Qaeda, who would certainly use them to attack us.  For instance:

The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.

The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.

Yeah, THAT’S calming.

Our current President continues to pander to himself and his cronies in Chicago and Washington.

Honestly, you’d have to be the biggest partisan hack in the known universe to think that this speech was pandering to people in Chicago, cronies or otherwise. (I also have no idea how one panders to one’s self.) But, hey, it’s not like the rest of Harris’s note has had a lot to do with the actual speech that was delivered, so we’ll consider this sentence par for the course.

When the President spoke Sunday night, I didn’t have the confidence that he meant what he said.

So you think Osama bin Laden is alive? You don’t think that President Obama called President Zardari? Or are you actually saying that President Obama didn’t give the speech you wanted him to give, so his version that gave credit to so many people other than himself didn’t seem believable?

His speech appeared insincere and not genuine. He had the whole world watching and [he] appeared weak, but happy that we killed Osama. He had an opportunity to speak to the American people and the world and tell them how strong the United States Government is and [about] the resolve it has.

Which he did tell us. Explicitly.

(1:50) We were united as one American family. We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.

(2:17) So, we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our alliesFor the last ten years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counter-intelligence professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort.

(3:11) Shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of Osama bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

(4:57) We must, and we will, remain vigilant, at home and abroad.

Instead, he spoke about the Islamic Religion, which he has had a hard time distancing himself from.

OH! That’s where you were going with all of this drivel. OK, (a) he said “I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did after 9/11” that this is not a war on Islam, so it’s not like he was breaking new ground here vis-a-vis Islam, and (b) “which he has a hard time distancing himself from” might be the dumbest thing written in this entire note.

The only people who think that President Obama is a Muslim are those who want to think that because they want nothing more than to find new and better ways to dislike the President. Sure, some people (well call him J. Harris — no, that’s too obvious — we’ll call him Justin H.) would have liked nothing more than for President Obama to spend half the time talking about how Islam was evil and was the root cause of all of the terrorism.  But, then, even that would have been written off by most of those same people as nothing more than President Obama “pandering to the American people who all know that he’s actually a Kenyan-born Muslim socialist who leaves the toilet seat up.”

I have to give our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, props for speaking out the next day. She gave a statement on camera that the United States is strong and will seek out those that hurt us and continue to do so. Couldn’t our President have given this speech?

[Editor’s note: the slow, disgusted head shake is back.]

President Obama said the United States is strong.  President Obama said that we must, and we will, remain vigilant against those who wish to hurt us.  I’m starting to wonder if Harris listened to a Glenn Beck recount of President Obama’s speech rather than the actual speech.  At least that would make some of Harris’s comments make some kind of sense.  Sorta.

I want to thank our men and women of the armed forces for protecting our country, our children, and[,] most of all, our freedom. Thank you to the Navy Seals [sic] for finding and killing the man who has terrorized us for all these years. Thank you to President George W. Bush for leading the way in this fight, and [] thank you to President Obama for allowing us to get the man who hurt us so deeply on Sept. 11, 2001.

You realize that the President is the one who controls the military, right?  So, by extension, thanking the armed forces for protecting us is also thanking the President.  You also realize, I’m sure, that the Navy SEALs went to a place based on intelligence gathered and processed by the counter-intelligence professionals that President Obama credited, and the SEALs went there at the direction of President Obama, right?

You want to thank George W. Bush?  I’m good with that.  Like I said, as long as we’re realistic about areas where he failed in the hunt for bin Laden, I have no issue admitting that President Bush launched the offensive against al Qaeda and bin Laden.  But minimizing President Obama’s role as simply “allowing ‘us’ to get” bin Laden is marks Harris as the worst kind of partisan hack — the kind that is unable to ever see good in the actions of the other side.

It is this kind of partisanship that drives a near-permanent wedge between the left and the right, because it evinces an absolute lack of willingness to work together on any issue. The fact that something is good for the country and, therefore, good for the President politically should not mean that Republicans must insist on demeaning it simply because they’re worried about the President getting credit or having anything positive said about him.

After 9/11, Republicans were quick to brand anyone and anything that questioned President Bush as “unAmerican” or “unpatriotic.” Yet now, not 10 years later, Republicans and their Tea Party brethren have come full circle and are now willing to apply those same labels to anyone or anything who supports President Obama.  They do not seem troubled by their hypocrisy, so I won’t let it trouble me, either.  What does trouble me — what will always trouble me, in fact — is when partisanship takes the form of abject stupidity, especially when it spews forth from someone elected to represent the people of this state.