The announcement late Sunday night, as most Americans were going to bed, that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, had been killed by U.S. special forces in a raid in Pakistan will be the defining moment of the Obama presidency. Bringing to justice the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001 places this President’s actions among the defining historical moments of the modern American presidency, such as President Kennedy’s staring down the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration that the nation had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” President Obama exhibited the type of decisive leadership and determination that most Americans equate with great Presidents.
In one fell swoop President Obama swept away doubts about his mettle and put to rest the false controversy over the location of his birth, his allegiance to American values and his supposed deference to Islam. In a week that he had to respond to the attacks on his citizenship by a shameless American businessman, President Obama demonstrated by his actions in taking out bin Laden his birthright and his fitness to lead this nation. It is important to recall that during the 2008 presidential campaign, critics suggested Barack Obama did not have the toughness to guide U.S. foreign policy and even his vice presidential running mate suggested the new President would be tested by international events early in his presidency. This did not dissuade Mr. Obama from declaring during the campaign that it would be his intention to locate Osama bin Laden and kill the terrorist leader.
President Obama also sent a powerful message to opponents who have subtly used coded language to mask racially motivated criticism alluding to a disbelief in the abilities of Blacks to lead and used anti-Muslim hysteria to suggest that the President was a closet Muslim and allied with the Islamic world. Since his election it has been clear that a very significant number of Americans did not view Barack Obama as the legitimate occupant of the Oval Office and has invested in a plethora of conspiracy theories, all of them refuted by facts, to sustain irrational hysteria over the election of the nation’s first Black President. Like so many African-Americans throughout our nation’s history, Barack Obama, when given the opportunity, proved to be capable of fulfilling the responsibilities given and worthy of the trust bestowed upon him. His decisiveness in a time of crisis is a powerful refutation of latent racism that continues to divide America and poison its politics.
The taking down of Osama bin Laden also answered those, including me, who have been critical of the President’s perceived lack of passion or even anger when we believe situations dictate a more aggressive response. His response to personal attacks leveled at him during his run up to the presidency, and the manner in which he has dealt with obvious racial taunts since taking office, has disappointed many of us. Yet, in his decisiveness in ordering the assault on bin Laden’s compound his Hawaii coolness can be viewed as an attribute in retrospect. His calm demeanor was on full display the night before the raid in Pakistan as the President delivered a monologue at the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, while showing no sign of the enormous decision he was weighing. Amidst laughs and frivolity, the President had on his best poker face and returned to the White House Saturday night prepared to give Americans the portion of justice they have been waiting to receive for almost a decade.
Will the death of Osama bin Laden end the stream of senseless, baseless and trivial opposition to this President? Of course not. American politics being what it is in this era of hyper-media saturation and the Tower of Babble of talking heads on cable television news, conspiratorial websites and talk radio, the trivial will always find a way to take center stage. However, President Obama has put on full display the distinction between himself and what poses as leadership among House Republicans and presidential wannabes; in basketball parlance he is playing above the rim while his opponents resemble the Washington Generals going up against the Globetrotters. His detractors are not in his league.
There will certainly be other milestones in the Obama presidency, and his leadership is needed to tackle issues such as persistent jobless among African-Americans and to champion the reform of public education. For the moment, and I believe as a defining moment, President Obama has distinguished himself as a leader and has placed his presidency in a historical context that has everything but equally nothing to do with his race.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.