In the middle of self-serving and greedy electioneering, there was such nobility to the U.S. Navy SEALs rescue of a 32-year-old former fourth-grade teacher from the clutches of brutal Somali pirates (one of whom was named Osman Alcohol). It was like hearing from afar the lost chords of “America the Beautiful.” SEAL Team 6 has become a more vivid symbol of the power of the great American idea than positive GDP statistics. Maybe the Chinese are more willing to bully their workforce out of bed in their spartan corporate dorms to crank out iPhone screens through the weary dawn, but can you ever imagine their leader giving an order for a fleet of military helicopters to set off in the dead of night to a heavily armed African hellhole and snatch back an endangered young do-gooder?
Obama the professor has become Obama the Caped Crusader when it comes to commanding America’s killing machine. The cool temperament that in everyday governing can be aggravatingly “aloof” has turned out to be stunningly well suited to national-security decisions—to those fabled 3 a.m. phone calls. The last time we went into Somalia, we had Black Hawk Down. This time it was a sleek stealth operation that left most of the enemy dead. As Dan Klaidman writes: “From the earliest days of his administration he began pushing his generals to pursue missions that were surgical and narrowly tailored to clearly defined objectives ... What he did not want to do was open up new fronts in the war on terror or get drawn into fighting local insurgencies around the world.”
With these thrillingly successful raids, it’s almost as if Obama has figured out a way to keep dramatizing an alternative presidency, one where he can make the kind of resounding executive decisions that elude him in politics. The paradox of his presidency is that the liberal appeaser has become the ruthless avenger. His metaphor rang clear in the State of the Union when he spoke of the SEALs’ Osama triumph: “All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves ... The mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other—because you can’t charge up those stairs into darkness and danger unless you know that there’s someone behind you.”
Wouldn’t you love to know that someone as solid as Newt Gingrich was behind you when you charged up those stairs? That it was his shifty, pudgy little face under a helmet watching your back? Newt has so many “out of the box” ideas he’d probably call the SEALs back halfway up to canvass a better plan. The panic of the GOP that someone as volatile and unprincipled as Newt might actually get the nomination and take the whole Republican Party down has turned into a full-scale political drama.
The irony is that Mitt Romney would likely be a far more steady president of the right than its fake standard-bearer, Newt. If Romney wins the nomination, he’ll have had to fight his own side so hard he’ll be a captive of the Tea Party for the whole of his first term. “It is possible to imagine,” Peter Boyer writes, “that, if Romney somehow survives the primary battles and defeats Obama in November, the Massachusetts Moderate will govern more closely to the Reagan model than the conservatives now hoping to undo him would ever imagine.”