Commentary Magazine


In the Kitchen with Bin Laden

Senator Hillary Clinton has a new ad that describes the presidency as “the toughest job in the world. You need to be ready for anything–especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing, and an economy in crisis.” The ad quotes Harry Truman–”if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”– and concludes with this question: “Who do you think has what it takes?”

Among the images in the ad is one of Osama bin Laden. It turns out that was too much for some of Barack Obama’s supporters. In his interview last night with Clinton, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said:

Let me ask you about the campaign and something you said in Pittsburgh today and again, let me read the quote about being president. “It’s the toughest job in the world and you have to be ready for anything. Two wars, skyrocketing oil prices, an economy in crisis. Well, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” That is almost word for word the narration of this new ad that your campaign put out today, and that ad flashes a very brief image of Osama bin Laden. For nearly six years now since Senator Max Cleland was cut down by a commercial that featured a picture of bin Laden, that has been — that tactic has been kind of a bloody shirt for many Democrats. Is it not just, in your opinion, as much of a scare tactic for a Democrat to use it against another Democrat, as it is for a Republican to use it in a race against the Democrat?

Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist, was on CNN making the same complaint:

What’s really disappointing about this ad is all of us should remember in 2002 when the Republicans ran an ad featuring Osama bin Laden against Max Cleland. And all the Democrats were upset about that, because they used Osama bin Laden to stir up fear. And now here we are again, watching Democrats use Osama bin Laden to stir fear against other Democrats.

The Max Cleland ad has become an urban legend in some quarters. According to this narrative, an ad run by Cleland’s opponent, Saxby Chambliss, questioned the patriotism of Cleland, a man who served in Vietnam and became a triple amputee. In point of fact, this ad did no such thing. Cleland had voted multiple times against a homeland security bill that would have given the President freedom from union rules which Bush had deemed necessary to make the new Department of Homeland Security more effective. Chambliss’s ad included pictures of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, underscoring the threats faced by America. At no point was Cleland’s patriotism impugned. What the ad did do was dispute Cleland’s claim that he had the “courage to lead” and that he “supports President Bush at every opportunity.”

So it has come to this: simply the picture of Osama bin Laden in an ad highlighting threats to America has become a “scare tactic” and a “bloody shirt for many Democrats.” Forget the fact that the threats we face are real, that bin Laden was responsible for killing almost 3,000 Americans on September 11th, and that he is leading figure in a jihadist movement that wants to destroy our country and kill many more of our people. Using the image of bin Laden is verboten.

This is yet one more example of the delicate sensibilities and manufactured outrage that makes people wonder about contemporary liberalism. I suspect Americans are more concerned with the threat posed by bin Laden than they are concerned by the use of his image in an ad. The public is right to be impatient with such childishness.