Markos tells us now that "Please proceed, Governor" was his favorite moment of 2012. Well, OK. Not my pick, but I understand it. Now with the election over, though, I feel free to write what I dared not write back then, with the election still in doubt.
Romney was technically right. He really was. He really, really was -- and because you don't believe it I've written several million words explaining it in painful detail below. The right-wing critiques of Obama were wrong, but Romney was technically right -- and Crowley was wrong to correct him.
Romney was right to his discredit. He was making a fatuous, jingoistic, and perverse argument as to how Obama should have responded, doubling down on his ghoulish real-time performance of the previous evening as attacks in the Arab world were still ongoing. But he was right: Obama didn't do the politically popular but substantively stupid thing that Romney said he should have been done: he did not conclude that the "outrageous attack" on the Benghazi consulate was definitively an act of terror.
Nor should he have done so. But let's please set the record straight, for the sake of accurate history.
The rest of this comment, below the video of the Rose Garden speech, comes mostly from a reply that I initially made in kos's diary before deciding that it really warranted its own discussion.
The correct (but far less effective) response that Obama could have made to Romney is that (1) it was too early at the time to conclude whether the underlying protest was organic or manufactured, which was necessary to determining whether it (the whole thing) was "an act of terrorism"); (2) that there might be wise diplomatic reasons for not calling it "an act of terrorism" at that early moment; and (3) that it really didn't matter whether or not he called it an act of terrorism (or "of terror") or not.
Obama's position, though, was that he was going to win on a technicality -- given the unclear reference in his speech, as noted below -- so he went with it. I don't blame him for trying, but I'm surprised (but pleased) that Crowley fell for it. (Maybe "playing the ref" against her helped a bit?)
What did Obama actually say? Let's start with the transcript from the White House site (UPDATE: note that this is the one with the video -- and that it appears on a secondary (i.e., without the video) page here. I initially omitted both links):
Statement by the President on the Attack in Benghazi:You'll note that this selection doesn't include any form of the word "terrorism" -- though to me "outrageous [and shocking] attack" and "senseless violence" better fit the bill anyway.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.
"I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.
"On a personal note, Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya's transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.
"The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward."
Did the President say "act(s) of terror" elsewhere in his speech? Yes -- but it's not in the transcript published on the site, which may explain why Romney would have been poorly briefed. (I would have expected them to focus on that public transcript rather than a sentence that could be found at the 4:18 mark of the 5:35 video itself, if they were going to gripe about Obama supposedly soft-pedaling the idea of terrorism.)
The portion of the speech containing the words "acts of terror" appears after the selection chosen for publication as "Statement by the President":
"Of course yesterday was also a painful day for our nation as we mark the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.Right-wingers say that Obama was talking there about 9/11 rather than Benghazi. That's not true. He was speaking about "acts of terror" generally -- and implicitly about Benghazi as at least a possible (although not necessarily at that point definite) "act of terror" as opposed to a mere act of "senseless violence," etc.
"We mourn with the families who were lost that day. I visited the graves of troops who made that final sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
"As Americans, let us never -- ever -- forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it and in some cases lay down their lives for it. Our country only is strong as the character of our people and the service of those, both civilian and military, who represent us around the globe.
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alte that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn for more Americans who represent the best of the United States of America we will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act, and make no mistake justice will be done. But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers.
"These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity. They should give every American great pride in the country that they served -- in the hope that our flag represents to people around the world who also yearn to live in freedom and with dignity. We grieve with their families, but let us carry on the memory and let us continue their work of seeking a stronger America and a better world for all of our children. Thank you and may god bless the memory of those we lost, and God bless America."
Obama's statement is not incompatible with his later being able to back away from the charge that the attack in Benghazi was itself an "act of terror" had later evidence shown otherwise -- nor should it have been at that moment. Romney's demand that the President react from the start by calling it an act of terror, evidence be damned, was dunderheaded -- but not necessarily bad politics.
What Obama probably realized is that even if Romney was technically correct that he had "never called Benghazi an 'act of terrorism'" on Sept. 12, he had done enough to make Romney's caviling about it look like petty quibbling. (Sometimes being technically correct isn't good enough.) Obama then knew that he was going to survive this attack on Benghazi during the debate and that he could not improve on his situation at that moment by saying another word. Hence: "please proceed, Governor."
I don't think that Obama had any idea that Crowley was going to choose that moment for a fact check -- let alone that she was going to back him up on it! He had the presence of mind, once she did, to ask her to repeat it and to claim the victory. ("Can you say that a little louder, Candy?"), more than his previous sentence, was actually the point where he nailed home the win. But let's not confuse the fact that he won the point (and game and match) with saying that he was right.
He wasn't right. Technically -- very technically, and then only to his substantive discredit -- Romney was right that Obama did not make an assertion from which he could not withdraw if future information warranted. (Again: good for Obama -- a smart and honest diplomat!) But ... this position is quite hard to explain.
In the bumper-sticker world of modern politics, Democrats usually get the dirty end of the stick when it comes to having an argument that is too complex for voters to understand. The beautiful irony of this election as that this time, in this critical instance, it happened to the Republicans instead.
Thus, "please proceed, Governor" comes across as a decisive winning spike rather than as the saving volley it was: "you may be technically right, but you're never going to be able to explain it here well enough to convince the audience. Go ahead and try." This very approach, in fact, had been Romney's own strategy throughout the first debate. Now it came back to bite him -- and he can't stop whining about it!
It couldn't happen to a more deserving party.