According to FP's tally, Osama bin Laden was mentioned 21 times during the nighttime speeches at the Democratic National Convention. I don't believe it. It had to be way more than that. In fact, there were times when he was being invoked so often -- by name or by suggestion - that I could have sworn he was the candidate.
I understand the impulse to summon the ghost of bin Laden. Getting Osama not only served justice and satisfied a deep emotional need within many Americans -- it made it tough for Republicans to say President Obama was somehow soft on national security. So too did doubling down in Afghanistan, but frankly, given the mess that is AfPak, it's just not the kind of thing a campaign wants to dwell on.
Republicans of course, reiterated their feigned outrage that the president would tolerate this kind of "end-zone dance" as John McCain described it earlier this year. Given George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment and the ugly undertones of the post-touchdown showboating imagery, however, it is easy to dismiss it for what it is: cheap, sour-grapes politics.
There were, however, aspects of the bin Laden refrain that were genuinely troubling. First was the fact that giving it such centrality dramatically overstated its importance. This compounded the central error of America's response to the 9/11 attacks: reorganizing the country's entire national security priorities around what was a real, but limited threat from a small group of extremists whose capabilities we systematically and sometimes very nearly hysterically overstated. Even in the context of combating terror, last week's long-overdue decision to categorize Pakistan's dangerous Haqqani network as a terrorist organization underscores the fact that killing any individual terrorist or even crushing any individual terrorist group does not make the threat go away. New threats appear. Groups reorganize. Violent extremism lives on and continues to warrant a proportional, targeted response.
Even worse was the failure to recognize what was probably the best and most important consequence of getting bin Laden: It allows us to close the chapter on a dark period in U.S. history and move on. Bigger, more complex national security challenges remain for the United States. But you didn't hear about them at either convention.
Oh, sure, there was Mitt Romney once again overstating the threat coming from Russia. But that could hardly be characterized as looking forward. It's not quite as foolish as Sen. John Kerry's line about Mitt getting his views of Russia from the movie Rocky IV made it seem. Vladimir Putin is a bad guy and Russia is an increasingly thorny problem for the United States. But to call it our No. 1 geopolitical threat is still, like the bin Laden refrain, an effort to stir up passions linked to old feelings more than it is a clear-eyed appraisal of the future risks we face.