Republicans' Bizarre Rediscovery of Osama bin Laden

06/28/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For quite a while, it looked as if the Republican Party had just about given up on taking Osama bin Laden seriously. During his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney took a surprisingly passive attitude towards the terrorist responsible for 9/11, saying, "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." Fred Thomson dismissed bin Laden's significance as mere "symbolism." The president, of course, famously said of bin Laden, "I truly am not that concerned about him."

But that was then. Now that it's time for the general election, and the right is desperate to smear Barack Obama, the GOP has rediscovered OBL. Yesterday, for example, John McCain posted this item on his campaign blog:

Senator Obama is obviously confused about what the United States Supreme Court decided and what he is calling for. After enthusiastically embracing the Supreme Court decision granting habeas in U.S. civilian courts to dangerous terrorist detainees, he is now running away from the consequences of that decision and what it would mean if Osama bin Laden were captured. Senator Obama refuses to clarify whether he believes habeas should be granted to Osama bin Laden....

Yesterday morning, the RNC distributed this Obama quote to reporters, as if it were, prima facie, controversial: "I think what would be important would be for us to deal with him in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he's engaged in and not to make him into a martyr." (Why the RNC finds this offensive is unclear.)

Shortly before that, McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann falsely accused Obama of opposing the death penalty for bin Laden. McCain also repeated his promise to either "kill" or "execute" bin Laden (McCain is relying on a secret get-bin-Laden plan that he chooses not to share with the White House or the military.)

I can understand, on a certain level, why Obama's remarks have sparked Republican attacks. After all, when Obama said "we've got due process to go through'' once we've found bin Laden, it was bound to get the right's attention.

Wait, did I say that was Obama? Actually, it was Fred Thompson who said during his campaign that bin Laden deserves due process. And now, Thompson is a McCain campaign surrogate. Interesting.

Look, I know why McCain and his cohorts are trying to scare people. I realize that they've given up on facts and decency, and hope that the same old "soft on terror" smears can overcome a weak campaign, unimpressive candidate, and ridiculous policy agenda.

But these tactics are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Would Obama extend habeas to terrorist suspects in U.S. custody? Of course; that's the law. Would Obama apply the death penalty to bin Laden? Absolutely; he's already said so. Does Obama's counter-terrorism policy rely exclusively on "law enforcement"? Of course not; he's already laid out a comprehensive strategy based on intelligence gathering, military strength, law enforcement, and international cooperation.

The bad news is, the demagoguery here is shameless and pathetic. The good news is, it doesn't make any sense and is easy to push back against.