2012-02-02 / Commentary

Battle of the backbones

By Maureen Dowd

Joe Biden is always ready to jump in as a character witness for Barack Obama.

In the last presidential election, he offered effusive testimony that Obama was not too snooty to appeal to skeptical working-class voters.

This time around, Biden is talking up Obama’s spine, aiming to show that all traces of Obambi are gone and that the president is pure BAM! now.

“I just want to tell you, this guy’s got a backbone like a ramrod,” the vice president assured House Democrats last week at a retreat in Cambridge, Md.

He repeated a line he’d heard to sum up what his party should campaign on: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

Biden, the only pol in town who can be more revealing on the record than off, dished up some of the confidential details of how the decision was made to go after bin Laden in Pakistan.

Newt Gingrich wants a colony on the moon, but Obama had to make the toughest call of his presidency based on the moon. Would there be enough moonlight that night to conduct the brazen secret operation — the kind that went wrong and marred Jimmy Carter’s presidency?

“The president, he went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff, and he said, ‘I have to make a decision. What is your opinion?”’ Biden recounted. “He started with the national security adviser, the secretary of state and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bets except Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said, 49, 51. He got to me. He said, ‘Joe, what do you think?’ And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.”’

Biden is so eager to show how bold and cool Obama was in that teeth-rattling moment that he relishes admitting he gave cautious advice that was ignored.

The next morning, the president came down to get into Marine One, turned to Tom Donilon and said, “Go.”

“He knew what was at stake,” Biden said. “Not just the lives of those brave warriors, but literally the presidency. And he pulled the trigger.”

The vice president concluded triumphantly: “This guy doesn’t lead from behind. He just leads.”

In a forum on YouTube and Google Plus on Monday, the president reinforced the spine spin, calmly dropping a news bomb by acknowledging that he had sent drones into Pakistan to execute pinpoint strikes on al- Qaida. “For us to be able to get them in another way,” Obama said, “would involve probably a lot more intrusive military actions than the one that we’re already engaging in.”

Vice President Biden, Keeper of the Ramrod Backbone, hit the morning shows last week and painted a valorous picture of the president leaving the Situation Room for the State of the Union address after learning about the success of another daring Navy SEAL raid that he had authorized to free aid workers from Somali pirates. “All those pirates, all those terrorists, others should know we will find you,” Biden told Charlie Rose on CBS.

In The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Leif Babin, a highly decorated former Navy SEAL officer, accused the Obama administration of revealing secret operational details of SEAL raids “for political gain — endangering our forces in the process.”

Still, this president has been much more reticent than his predecessor about celebrating his missions accomplished — even though they really were amazing missions accomplished, not unnecessary missions mangled. And many of the SEAL commandos seem to be enjoying their hero status.

Every election has the same narrative: Can the strong father protect the house from invaders? That question is burning now that intelligence sources are warning that Iranians might be coming to strike on U. S. soil. And, this time, we’re also asking: Can the strong father save the house itself from going into foreclosure?

Like Biden, Mitt Romney’s team has been busy building up the boss. In Florida, they focused intensely on strengthening Mitt’s bendable backbone, coaching him so well on debate fisticuffs that Romney was able to instantly turn his rival back into Crybaby Newt. Mitt learned the age-old lesson: Slap the bully in the face and he runs off mewling.

After the Jacksonville debate, however, Mittens offered an unattractive display of vamping, chortling and gloating about leaving “Goldilocks” Gingrich in a puddle.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Angry Mitt kept pounding: “Mr. President, you were elected to lead. You chose to follow. And now it’s time for you to get out of the way.”

But as he exits Florida, brushing Newt away and accusing Obama of adopting a strategy “of appeasement and apology,” Romney would do well to remember that real tough guys don’t brag on themselves.

They let others do it.

Maureen Dowd writes for The New York Times

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