People are e-mailing about it so I’m giving you the transcript, but I want to see the clip before making a judgment.
Stewart: “Is part of the investigation helping the communication between these divisions? Not just what happened in Benghazi, but what happened within. Because I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page.”
Obama : “Here’s what I’ll say. If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal. We’re going to fix it. All of it. And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what’s broken and you fix it. Whatever else I have done throughout the course of my presidency the one thing that I’ve been absolutely clear about is that America’s security comes, and the American people need to know exactly how I make decisions when it comes to war, peace, security, and protecting Americans. And they will continue to get that over the next four years of my presidency.”
It was Stewart who introduced the word “optimal,” something I didn’t realize when I first heard about O’s quote. As is, it reads to me like Obama’s mirroring his language for effect, precisely because the word’s not equal to the task of describing what happened. E.g., “It seems like our air defenses at Pearl Harbor were less than optimal.” “Yeah, when you have most of the Pacific fleet destroyed in one day, that’s not optimal.” In other words, there is — or should be — a scare-quotes element to “optimal.” But maybe I’m wrong and the clip will show that he means it literally and really is this much of a callous jackhole. He has been known to use dry, off-putting, minimizing euphemisms to downplay the Benghazi attack, after all. Either way, Toby Harnden’s probably right that Team Mitt will use it against him, either in ads or at the debate on Monday. Because public reaction to all this is, shall we say, not optimal for Obama either:
He’s at -30 among independents who have been following this story and now leads Romney on foreign policy by just four points after leading by 15 in September. That’s sufficiently bad that the Foreign Policy President has evidently decided his new best bet on the trail is to talk about, ahem, how well our economic recovery is going. Romney, of course, would also prefer to talk about the economy instead of Libya, mainly because his pollsters found after the second debate that he made his biggest impression when discussing jobs, gas prices, and the deficit. Long story short, don’t miss Monday’s debate if you’re interested in Benghazi, as there probably won’t be much more about it from the two campaigns until election day.