C'mon, Republican candidates have exploited military triumphs too

McCain, the main speaker on the convention’s opening night, hailed Bush’s courage: “He ordered American forces to Afghanistan and took the fight to our enemies, and away from our shores, seriously injuring al-Qaida and destroying the regime that gave them safe haven. … President Bush made the difficult decision to liberate Iraq. … We need a leader with the experience to make the tough decisions and the resolve to stick with them.” Romney, in his speech, argued that Kerry lacked this toughness: “I don’t believe Sen. Kerry is the leader our country needs. … He’s campaigned against the war all year, but says he’d vote yes today. I don’t want presidential leadership that comes in 57 varieties.” And Bush, in his acceptance address, described the loneliness of making the call to take down Saddam: “I faced the kind of decision that comes only to the Oval Office.”

When you look back at this record of boasts and taunts, it’s amusing to hear Gillespie, Romney, and McCain whine today about the political exploitation of military decisions. Their accusations of hypocrisy are hypocritical. Their cries of shamelessness are shameless. But Gillespie is right that Obama’s tactics don’t quite match Bush’s. At their 2004 convention, Republicans did two things Obama hasn’t mustered the chutzpah to try. First, they assigned a major speaking role to Tommy Franks, the general who had overseen the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Franks used his prestige as a war hero to recommend a vote for Bush over Kerry: “I choose George W. Bush because he is a leader we can depend on to make the tough decisions—and the right decisions.”