A sudden outbreak of civility

May 4, 2011

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RUDY GIULIANI praised President Obama’s “courage.’’ Mitt Romney, who was in New Hampshire yesterday campaigning for a chance to run against Obama next year, graciously recognized his opponent’s “enormous victory.’’ The day after the daring military raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan, even Rush Limbaugh seemed torn between sarcasm and sincerity: “Thank God for President Obama,’’ he said.

On the whole, the reaction of conservative leaders to bin Laden’s killing has been notably statesmanlike. Starting with former President George W. Bush, who congratulated Obama shortly after the news broke on Sunday night, senior Republicans have resisted the calls from more churlish voices on the right to deny the president credit for authorizing the gutsy military operation that resulted in the terrorist leader’s demise.

Romney had it exactly right when he said, “We’re all Americans. This is not a Republican or a Democrat thing. This is an American thing.’’ For his part, Obama also deserves praise for eschewing politics, and not seeking to capitalize on the raid.

The restraint on both sides is especially heartening because the demise of bin Laden has unleashed a jumble of deeply felt emotions — not all of them happy ones. Bin Laden’s passing certainly won’t be mourned in the United States. But the jubilant rallies that erupted spontaneously in many cities didn’t reflect the feelings of some Americans, for whom bin Laden’s violent end reawakened the anguish of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Indeed, the raid that killed bin Laden may have been a military success, but it was also the final act in a story of personal tragedy for thousands of families in New York, Boston, Washington, and elsewhere. Bin Laden was not just a strategic threat to the United States; he was also a poisonous presence in the lives of so many Americans.

Political differences will soon reemerge, as they should. But as the news sinks in, it is heartening that political leaders have observed a ceasefire in the schoolyard rumble of national politics long enough for all Americans to process bin Laden’s passing in a dignified fashion.