"You have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird." That was Mitt Romney at a rally in Iowa this week, saying what needed saying.
Whether Big Bird really needs tax dollars to survive -- is that really what this election has come down to for President Barack Obama?
The Obama campaign produced a costly anti-Romney TV attack ad featuring the big yellow bird. Set aside for a moment the fact that the Sesame Street empire is worth hundreds of millions. Set aside the fact that the actor who plays Big Bird on TV makes $314,000 per year, and that the CEO of the Sesame Workshop took home almost a million last year. The blow-up over Big Bird is important for one reason alone: It tells you the Obama campaign is out of ideas. The president’s campaign lacks a compelling argument for why Americans should give him another four years.
Over the last four weeks, the United States has endured one of the worst displays of incompetence in foreign affairs in recent memory. We saw our embassies vandalized and burned across the Middle East. The dead body of our ambassador to Libya was dragged through the streets by a mob of al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers in Benghazi.
Meanwhile, on the web site of Al Jazeera, the world’s largest Arabic-language news network, the headline for U.S. news reads as follows: “Obama’s Big Bird campaign ad causes a flap.” The story summary reads: “Sesame Street ask [sic] for commercial to be withdrawn as president seeks to profit from Romney pledge to cut funding for PBS.”
Our enemies abroad look at a headline like that and laugh. A costumed character in a children’s show has suddenly become major player in the U.S. presidential race. Our nation looks petty, distracted, and weak. In a moment of deadly seriousness on the world stage, our leaders are projecting an image of unseriousness.
"You have to scratch your head,” Romney said.
The life and death consequences of politics were made painfully plain to us in Benghazi last month. The consulate was razed. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and several other Americans were murdered. Much of the violence was televised.
For more than a week after the attack, the Obama administration insisted that the Libyan attack was the result of a spontaneous protest, prompted by an obscure anti-Muslim video on YouTube. The mainstream press seized on this improbable explanation and repeated it endlessly without question.
Finally, this week, the State Department acknowledged what was obvious all along -- that 400 fighters, armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mounted a coordinated assault on a U.S. consulate on the anniversary of Sept. 11, and it had nothing to do with a YouTube video protest. It was a terrorist attack, plain and simple.
This Tuesday, the State Department released a greatly revised account of the attack on the Libyan mission, admitting that the attack was not spontaneous and was not related to the video. Members of the administration, most notably Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, had insisted just the opposite for many days following the attack.
Why did the Obama administration try to sell a false explanation? We now know three relevant facts.
No. 1: The Obama administration ordered diplomats to draw down security in the months leading up to the attack in order to show Libyans that “life was returning to normal.”
No. 2: Less than two months prior to the attack, the State Department concluded that the risk of violence for diplomats and other Americans in Libya was high.
No. 3: Eric Nordstrom, the former Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, twice wrote to Washington requesting additional security in Benghazi -- in March 2012 and July 2012. Neither request was granted.
In hindsight, these were fatal mistakes on the part of the Obama administration, mistakes that no doubt added to the personal grief members of the administration felt due to the loss of Ambassador Stevens and other American staff.
The only thing more troubling than the administration’s lack of responsiveness to the known security threat in Benghazi is the way the president and his aids attempted to cover up their lack of responsiveness by insisting that it was a spontaneous attack, and, therefore, not something they could have anticipated and tried to prevent.
Under pressure for the House Oversight Committee, the State Department is now being forced to reveal the truth. We are now learning what the administration knew, and when. It is becoming increasingly clear that all the intense focus on the anti-Muslim video in the days after the attack was merely an attempt to distract voters from an embarrassing security blunder, one that had the potential to damage the president’s image on foreign affairs only weeks before the election.
The president’s campaign can be boiled down to the tale of two videos: a Big Bird TV ad, and a low-budget anti-Muslim propaganda piece.
In each case, the Obama campaign tried to distract voters from something potentially embarrassing to the president. In the first case, it was his poor debate performance. In the second, it was his mistakes in Libya. Both efforts seem to have backfired. Both episodes left Americans with a sense that Obama is unprepared for the work of the presidency in these difficult and dangerous times.
Nathan Harden's new book, Sex & God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad (St. Martin's, 2012), was recently named a New York Times Editor's Choice Pick. He is Editor of The College Fix.