Jewish World Review May 4, 2012/ 12 Iyar, 5772
Obama Tops Mitt's Pizzas
By Roger Simon
True, you get blamed for stuff. But, if you are smart, you control events far more than events control you.
Take campaign optics. The optics of a political event not only establish context and shape meaning, but people remember the images long after they forget the words.
On Tuesday, Mitt Romney's optics included Romney carrying pizzas into a Lower Manhattan firehouse.
Barack Obama's optics had Obama standing in front of hulking, sand-colored MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) behemoths at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, Afghanistan, as he addressed the people of America.
If that strikes you as a grossly unfair comparison, it is because the comparison is grossly unfair. But real.
Presidents have certain disadvantages — they get blamed for everything from unemployment to gas prices — but they also have certain advantages: They have cool stuff like Air Force One to fly them places, and they have the U.S. military to serve as background.
Presidential campaigns are about campaigning. Which is to say that a day in which Mitt Romney communed with pizzas and Barack Obama communed with our troops and nation is a day that Romney probably lost.
A few days earlier, Romney was asked if he would have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and Romney replied: "Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."
Even Jimmy Carter? Even the guy who had the guts to order a military mission into Iran in 1979 to try to rescue U.S. hostages? Sure, the mission was a disaster, but Carter tried. And why beat up on a guy best known today for climbing up ladders and building homes for Habitat for Humanity?
So with the one-year anniversary of the killing of bin Laden fast approaching, it seemed like a good subject for Romney to slide away from by ... delivering pizzas to a firehouse! What could be better than that? How could Obama possibly top that kind of imaginative optics?
So Tuesday Romney joins up with legend-in-his-own-mind Rudy Giuliani and goes to Joe's Pizza parlor in the West Village and orders six pizzas for $136.
Romney takes out a platinum money clip and slaps down a $10,000 bill — OK, OK, I am lying about the money clip and the bill. Romney pays, leaves a tip, and the two men walk out to a waiting black SUV to proceed to the firehouse.
According to Sam Youngman of Reuters, "As Romney leaves Joe's Pizza carrying three pizzas, someone on the sidewalk shouts, 'Just don't put 'em on the roof of the car!'"
New Yorkers. You gotta love 'em.
The two men motor over to Engine 24, Ladder 5, a firehouse on Sixth Avenue and Houston Street, that lost 11 of its firefighters on 9/11, and Romney and Giuliani, carrying three pizza each, walk past the horde of cameras — and then dump the pizzas into the arms of a waiting aide as soon as the two (incorrectly) assume they are out of camera range.
No press is allowed inside, but afterward, speaking about the day bin Laden was "taken out," Romney says, "We respect and admire the many people who were part of that, from the president who authorized that attack" to all the rest.
Romney goes on to criticize Obama for "politicizing" the event, but throughout his remarks a leather-lunged protester is screaming, "Mitt Romney, you're a racist!" at the top of her lungs.
New York magazine will later provide a Web transcript that goes: "Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist! Mitt Romney, you're a racist!" And so forth.
The day goes downhill from there, as Richard Grenell, the Romney campaign's openly gay foreign policy and national security spokesman, resigns in the wake of conservative attacks and the Dow Jones industrial average hits a four-year high.
Then it gets worse, as Romney and the rest of America learn that Obama has flown to Afghanistan to talk to the troops and address the nation.
The optics are impeccable. Obama is dressed not in the leather jacket adorned with presidential seal that he has worn in war zones in the past, but a dark business suit, white shirt and red tie with white dots. The message is not commander in chief, but president.
He stands in front of the looming 14-ton MRAPs, one draped with an American flag, and speaks for only 11 minutes. He affirms that by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be in charge of their own security, though U.S. forces will still carry out "two narrow security missions beyond 2014: counterterrorism and continued training."
"Our goal is not to build a country in America's image," Obama says.
Which is a switch. Our goal used to be counterinsurgency, and now it is counterterrorism. The difference? Counterinsurgency is when you try to win the hearts and minds of the enemy. Counterterrorism is when you kill the enemy and then try to win their hearts and minds.
In America, Romney heads to two posh fundraisers in Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs, where he expects to rake in $1 million. (Or 44,111 Joe's pizzas.) But he is forced to say something about Obama's speech.
So at 9:51 p.m. Eastern time, Romney releases a statement that begins, "I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan."
Now if Romney can just get Obama to stay there.
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate