I'm a nonpartisan pollster, but I'm also a columnist with a strong Republican background. So let me be clear right from the start: I believe President Barack Obama and his national security team performed admirably in the near-flawless effort to capture and kill Osama bin Laden.
It's disingenuous and just plain silly for anyone to say otherwise just because the president is a Democrat or because they disagree with his other policies. The snuffing out of the world's top terrorist demonstrated the power and determination of America and its leaders.
A poll we conducted just after the announcement of bin Laden's demise showed a modest upward bump in approval ratings for the president. I expect these numbers to keep inching up over the coming weeks.
But another name has been connected with the Navy SEALs raid in Pakistan, if perhaps in the background — George W. Bush. He left office with not the best of popularity ratings. But according to the poll just mentioned, Bush, too, is greatly appreciated by the American people for the policies he put in place that led to bin Laden's abrupt end.
In our nationwide survey of 1,735 registered voters, 65 percent of Americans said that Bush's policies contributed to bin Laden's capture. Amazingly, 48 percent of Democrats felt the same. And among all age groups, a majority gave the ex-president his due for the manhunt that ended so successfully last weekend.
To me, it's both interesting and praiseworthy that Obama referenced George Bush in his national address after the killing of bin Laden. The president was also gracious enough to invite Bush to a celebration at Ground Zero. (Bush politely declined.)
The fact is that when momentous events happen, the old cliche about all of us first being Americans becomes true. For once, our partisan views take a back seat.
That doesn't mean Obama hasn't made huge mistakes — including, in my mind, a stimulus package that only stimulated the nation's debt and the creation of reams more of bureaucratic red tape that have had the net effect of making life more difficult for most of us.
That aside, we now may well be witnessing the maturation of a president. Looking at the photographs in the situation room, as the president and his advisers watched the bin Laden mission in real time on video, one can't help but notice the similarities to John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Here was a president — maligned by many — making historic, and historically good, snap decisions.
During all this, somewhere in Texas was the man who endured nearly eight years of fighting against the savage, relentless al-Qaida. While Obama and his team finally breathed relief, George W. Bush likely was receiving word of bin Laden's capture and killing.
I believe that Bush contributed to the massive federal debt that now weighs down America. And sometimes his style of leadership seemed hard to understand.
As readers may recall, Bush got me pretty good when I wrote a column in praise of then-first lady Laura Bush just before Bush left office. A handwritten letter was sent to me. In it, Bush thanked me for complimenting his wife.
But he also made it politely clear that, contrary to what I had suggested in the same column, he indeed did read newspaper columns. I mention this because I believe many people have done what I did in that column: underestimate Bush as president.
Who can forget the image of Bush standing atop the rubble of New York's Twin Towers after 9/11? He stood with a fireman, sleeves rolled up, and said in no uncertain terms that those who had perpetrated that evil on America would get what was coming to them.
In an important sense, I view Bush's pointed promise and Obama's resolute fulfillment of it as two bookends in American history. This week, I don't feel like a Republican, a Democrat or an independent. I feel like an American.
Will this capture and killing of bin Laden assure re-election for Obama? Both the polling numbers and my own gut tell me no. Our economy remains weak, and a vast majority of our poll respondents believe that we may yet be the victims of retaliation by our terrorist foes.
But for the moment, we must recognize that Bush and Obama finally got their man. Anyone — Republican, conservative or anyone else — who attempts to deny Obama his due credit is only spiking the celebratory champagne with sour grapes.
This week we're all Americans. And two presidents deserve their due.
Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.
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