The horrific attacks of 9/11 brought together, at least for a time, a fragmented and ideologically divided nation. One would think that the discovery and killing of the terrorist leader responsible for it would have the same effect.
And yet there persists, on cable TV and the Internet, a childish feud over who really deserves the credit for the killing. A parade of Bush administration officials has gone on television to say that the former president deserves at least some of the credit. Others who dislike Obama have attacked him for being self-centered in his announcement of the killing—supposedly because he had the temerity to use the word "I" in his rather muted speech. It’s hard to see how he could have avoided that, anyway—he was, in fact, the person who ordered the mission. And surely, had it failed, the TV talkers would be comparing the mission to the failed effort by former President Jimmy Carter to rescue the hostages in Iran. [Join the "childish feud" and vote: Which president deserves credit for bin Laden's demise?]
Of course Obama deserves a great deal of credit. And of course, thanks should also go to everyone—including Bush and those who worked for him (some of whom are still working for the federal government), who worked very hard to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. True, the actual capture or killing didn’t occur on Bush’s watch. Is there anyone who seriously believes he wasn’t trying?
Notably, the people who have displayed the greatest maturity and graciousness over the whole issue of credit have been the president and former presidents themselves. Obama called Bush and invited him to come to the Ground Zero site to meet with families of victims. That was a gracious thing to do. Bush declined, also a gracious thing to do. And his reason—he’s decided to stay out of the public eye in immediate retirement—is not only plausible but consistent with his behavior thus far. Dislike Bush’s policies if you like, dislike Bush himself if you like. But he’s been impressively quiet during Obama’s administration. If he’s disagreed with policy—and we should expect that he has—he’s kept it to himself. [Vote now: Was Obama right not to release the bin Laden death photos?]
Former President Clinton, who has not stayed out of the public eye (quite understandably; he was quite young when he left office and is constitutionally incapable of being inactive) also declined to come to the site. That was also a gracious thing to do, since it didn’t put Obama in the position of looking like he was engineering a Democratic event, instead of an American event.
Osama bin Laden is gone. It would be refreshing if we all could just be glad about that, instead of turning it into a partisan competition.