In the Arena

Gaffe of the Week: Obama’s ‘Space’ Case

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The President begins the week with a gaffe that may not rival last week’s Romney Etch-A-Sketch disaster as a defining moment, but is sure to be used against him repeatedly by Republicans until we’ve voted in November. In a ‘hot mic’ conversation with the Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, Obama asked for ‘space’–that is, that Russian President Vladimir Putin not press him–on missile defense right now. He added that he’d have “more flexibility” to negotiate after the election. What’s wrong with that?

Well, it falls neatly into a semi-subterranean Republican trope during the primary campaign–that Obama’s liberal-Muslim-s0cialist predilections will be unleashed, without check or balance, if he wins the election. There is some truth to the claim: Obama will be free to, say, let the Bush tax cuts lapse if he chooses in 2013. He will be freer to withdraw more rapidly from Afghanistan. But the Obama Unleashed claims also play to a darker side of the Republican electorate–the paranoid wing that believes the President is not who he say he is, that he is, as Newt Gingrich pretends, “dangerous.”

This gaffe gives fodder to those fears. I suspect we’ll see more than a few ads playing to this theme in the fall.