Are the Republicans any match for new Action Man Obama? Osama bin Laden killing has transformed US president from procrastinating intellectual to decisive commander-in-chief Ewen MacAskill in Washington guardian.co.uk, Friday 6 May 2011 16.25 BST <li class="history">Article history Barack Obama looms at the head of the table in this photograph from the White House situation room during the mission against Osama bin Laden. Photograph: Reuters/White House Barack Obama is flying to Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border to thank the special forces who stormed Osama bin Laden's hideout. He has good reason to thank them personally: the raid transformed the way Americans view their president, changing him overnight from dithering nerd-in-chief to decisive action man. Since Obama began campaigning for the presidency in 2007 he has faced criticism, some of it racially charged, that he was not up to the job. First from the Hillary Clinton campaign: that he was too inexperienced, that he could not handle the crisis call at three o'clock in the morning. More followed from John McCain and Sarah Palin. Then came the rightwing commentators Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement. He was too detached, too academic. His patriotism was questioned and his religion too. Stephen Hess, one of America's most respected commentators on the White House, who has served in two Republican adminstrations, acknowledged the change since the death of Bin Laden. "His image, fair or unfair, is that he is an intellectual, which he is and which is unusual in a president. Obama thinks about things and takes his time in making decisions, which I think is a good thing." Hess, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution, saw the Abbottabad decision as "very gutsy, tough, made quickly" and responsible for changing the dynamics of American politics. "It is going to be very hard for Republicans to use any more that label of weak and indecisive in foreign policy," Hess said. Helping to reshape the image are those pictures of Obama in the situation room looking grave, grim and anxious as the raid is taking place. He was risking not only the special forces he had sent in but his own presidency, with the danger of a Jimmy Carter-style Iranian hostage rescue debacle that could have finished any hopes of a second White House term. Richard Wolffe, the author of two books on Obama, acknowledged the perception had changed but insisted the view of the president as weak and naive was always wrong a continuation of the theme by his opponents during the 2008 presidential campaign that he was not up to the job. "If he was really as cautious as people said, he could have flattened the building with a bombing raid," Wolffe said. "He makes a few big gambles but cautiously. He will make the gutsy move but gets there more slowly. It is a weird combination because we are used to someone who shoots from the hip like Bush or someone more hesitant like Kerry or Clinton. But we have someone who is a combination of the two, someone who is cautious but who makes the calls." There is a hard core that will never be convinced Obama is truly patriotic and will continue to insist he was not born in the US, that he is a secret Muslim. But their numbers have dwindled fast because of the combination of his release of his long-form birth certificate a fortnight ago (and his ridiculing of Donald Trump at the White House correspondents' dinner on Saturday night) and the Abbottabad raid. Beck, Limbaugh and former members of the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, joined in the praise for Obama. David Frum, who as assistant to Bush wrote the "axis of evil" speech, deplored the vilification of Obama as some dark-skinned alien. "So we had this situation where he was not an American, a Muslim, not a patriot. I do not think it [the Bin Laden killing] ends the paranoia but it shoves it back from the centre to the margins. He has shown he understands that the nation has enemies and that force is sometimes the only remedy," Frum said. The White House and Pentagon almost threw away its advantage with its poor handling of the aftermath, offering exaggerated accounts of what happened and then having to recant. Obama's emotional visit with the 9/11 relatives on Thursday and his trip to see the troops at Fort Campbell have helped undo some of that damage. Within minutes of Obama announcing last Sunday that Bin Laden was dead, US commentators were tweeting that the president had the 2012 election in the bag. That is grossly premature. Obama has not enjoyed the kind of spectacular jump in approval ratings he might have expected from Bin Laden's death. He has not soared into the 80s, instead seeing relatively modest rises that take him from the mid-40s to the mid-50s. That is mainly because of the sluggish economy. Democratic strategists, speaking anonymously, reluctant to sound negative in a week of good news for the president, are far from convinced he is invincible and are nervous about the slowness of the economic turnaround, even with a rise in new jobs. Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon polling, agrees. "There is no reason for Democrats to say it is over. I think Republicans thought the same thing in 1991." George HW Bush had seen the Berlin Wall fall on his watch and had high approval ratings for his handling of the Gulf war, but he still lost. "There is plenty of time for Obama's shine to fade. Now you have all this stuff surrounding the release of these photos. Not wanting to put them out feeds into the old Obama image, not wanting to offend Muslims. We are a a tabloid country. We want to see pictures of Bin Laden," Coker said, predicting that Obama's modest bump in the polls would last only a week before being halved. Obama came to power with some of the highest approval ratings in US political history. Millions turned out for his victory night party and inauguration. He has managed to get some of his programme through, delivering on his promise to introduce near-universal healthcare, due to begin in 2014. He has had other gains too, on gay rights, a US-Russian arms reduction deal and preventing the shutdown of government. But there is a lot left to do, including closing Guantánamo, reforming immigration laws and ending tax breaks for the wealthy. These failures have brought criticism from the left. Clarence Jones, who was a lawyer and adviser to Martin Luther King, writes regular commentaries calling on the left to mobilise and press Obama to do more. While pleased that it went well in Abbottabad, he would like to see the president "apply the same careful, premeditated, calculating weighing of options about major domestic issues as he did in determining which course of action to pursue to get Bin Laden". Jones, who helped draft King's "I have a dream" speech, believes there was an undercurrent of racism behind many of the jibes about the president not being up to the job. "Yes, his academic professorial background was used by his critics to portray Obama as some ivory tower intellectual incapable of taking decisive action. Regrettably there was a racial undercurrent in the suggestions he was not up to the job." Jones does not believe that the elimination of Bin Laden has exorcised that. Politics will return to normal in Washington next week. The Republicans will resume their confrontation with the White House over the size of the national debt. But catching Bin Laden has given Obama an edge in those negotiations. And an edge in the longer term. National security is usually a point of weakness for Democrats. But next year, when any Republican rival questions his credentials, the president will have an easy one-word answer: "Osama."