There were a number of ways President Obama could have responded to Mitt Romney's widely panned response to the embassy attacks in Cairo and Benghazi. He could have shamed him for going political at a time of national tragedy. He could have scoffed at Romney's shameless accusation that Obama "sympathizes" with the protesters. What Obama did instead, in an interview with CBS News — an excerpt of which aired in a special report at 4 p.m. this afternoon — was interesting:
"Shoot first, ask questions later." If Obama's characterization of Romney sounds familiar, it's because he said the same thing almost verbatim about John McCain.
"Obama," Congressional Quarterly Today reported on August 21, 2008, "had sharply criticized McCain in a Wednesday speech in Virginia, saying, 'We can't have the same kind of shoot first and aim second (approach) in our foreign policy. We've got to have some kind of judgment in our foreign policy and restore our alliances around the world.'"
Obama's foreign-policy adviser Susan Rice repeated the line to reporters. "His tendency is to shoot first and ask first questions later, it is dangerous and we can't afford four more years of this reckless foreign policy."
This was merely one sound bite in a larger and longer effort to portray McCain as "erratic" and lacking in the steady "temperament" required for the presidency, which is exactly the message Obama is going for here. Romney didn't just "shoot first and aim later" on this particular occasion — he "seems to have a tendency" to do so, Obama says. "As president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that."
Same play, different opponent.