War is hell, even in interesting times as these 

On May 1, President Barack Obama went on national television to tell us all that Navy SEALs had invaded a mansion in Pakistan and killed the author of the 9/11 attacks. It was a rare kick-butt moment for our
academic-in-chief, who was not used to having flag-wavers pump fists and shout “U-S-A!” about his doings, or getting the warm praise of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

In the 2008 primaries, he lost military activist voters to Hillary Clinton, and was losing them to Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain in the general election until the financial implosion swamped everything. Does he have a chance now to win some of their hearts back?

These moments provide clues:

Moment one occurred in 2004, when John Kerry reported for duty, trying to parlay four months in Vietnam 40 years earlier into presidential credentials, an effort that foundered when he windsurfed in flowered shorts near his wife’s house in Nantucket. And other vets, annoyed for years at his self-promotion, reminded everyone that for the four months he spent overseas as a warrior, he spent four years back home as an anti-war advocate, accusing his former comrades of hair-raising crimes.

Moment two took place two years later, when President Ronald Reagan’s former Navy secretary, James Webb, turned Democrat and ran against incumbent Sen. George Allen, R-Va. Even though it was the Democrats’ wave year of 2006, Webb and his new party were an uneasy post-election fit.

Webb, a self-described redneck, was a gun nut who hated affirmative action, and a war hawk who, despite all his machismo and medals, was a passionate foe of the war in Iraq.

If Webb was the ideal warrior-Democrat — the war hero who votes with the anti-war party — Barack Obama is surely his opposite, the nuanced and urbane soft-power proponent who pulls off a surgical strike.

In fact, it was only a nuanced and urbane soft-power proponent who could pull off a surgical strike of this magnitude without making Democrats cringe. “Obama’s aides were stunned Sunday night when the chants of ‘U-S-A!’ began wafting into the West Wing,” as Politico wrote.

Still, Obama can hardly be blind to the fact that this is the first popular thing he’s done since he took office. While the things that he pushed — like health care reform — made him very unpopular, he won back some cred as a popular leader by playing the blood-and-guts tough guy he and his party liked to mock and deride.

Where will he move as the election draws closer? We do live in interesting times.

Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”

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