Salena Zito

Take President Obama’s poor timing in response to a failed terrorist attack on a U.S. jetliner, add the politicization of that event by his surrogates and a ridiculous message by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and what do you get?

Arguing with Idiots By Glenn Beck

A complete failure when it comes to a commander-in-chief’s most important job: Protecting Americans from harm.

“It was arrogant and stupid,” one Democrat strategist, who supported Obama the candidate, admits privately.

“The president needed to set the initial tone on a matter of such importance,” said Mark Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University. “Press secretaries don't calm and reassure an anxious public – that’s the president's role.”

The symbolism of Obama’s press secretary speaking out while the president vacationed in Hawaii was all wrong, he said – “Especially when you add the Homeland Security secretary's incredible comment that the system worked.”

It all contributed to an impression of an administration unprepared to deal with a security threat or a real crisis.

“The president's silence for three days is perhaps the hardest of all to understand,” Rozell added.

As for the Bush comparisons that have become the fabric of any discussion of Obama’s leadership, well, sorry – Barack Obama is president today, not George W. Bush. So man-up and lead.

“Americans probably wanted to see toughness from Obama in this case, and some interpreted the lack of response as the opposite,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “ ‘The system worked’ mantra made the situation worse.”

The White House itself politicized the event Monday when it sent deputy press secretary Bill Burton out with a statement outlining Robert Gibbs’ Sunday-talk-show-crawl, in which Gibbs made clear the administration is “winding down the war in Iraq and increasing resources in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where those terrorists are.”

“First of all,” says former CIA operative Bob Baer, an outspoken critic of U.S. intelligence-gathering and anti-terrorism efforts, “what happened on Christmas Day has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I am unclear on what that message has to do with what happened on the plane.”

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.