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The 3 A.m. President

Chait is bemused by Hillary's new ad envisioning a scary international crisis which precipitates a 3 a.m. phone call to the president. (The ad has been the subject of fierce dueling between the campaigns today, giving it a guaranteed free-media punch beyond its actual viewership.)  

I don't find the ad remotely comparable to LBJ's (once-aired) "Daisy" ad, which essentially depicts a little girl being anhilliated by a nuclear explosion. I do agree with Jon that it's a bit substantively puzzling. The White House gets lots of calls in the middle of the night about foreign crises. But how often does a president really have to make a critical decision on the spot? My sense is that the poor POTUS usually gets roused from bed by some night-shift aide who informs him something bad is happening, and the president nods his (or her) head and goes right back to sleep, dealing with the crisis the next morning.

Indeed, the idea of a split-second middle-of-the-night decision seems to me a holdover from the Cold War, when a president might plausibly have been informed that radar had picked up airborne ICBMs from the Soviet Union, and had about a dozen minutes to decide a) whether to hope this is a false alarm and b) whether to actually deliver on the threat of mutual assured destruction by flinging America's atomic arsenal right back.

But if readers know of any recent cases where a president in fact did make a late-night real-time decision, by all means tell us about it in comments.

P.S. Maybe the post-Cold War analog is the dreaded ticking-bomb scenario: "We've caught a guy in Pakistan who might know about a nuke in Manhattan. Do we torture him?" Not sure Hillary wants to go there, however....

--Michael Crowley