Peggy Noonan, I have a major bone to pick with you about your most recent column “When Americans Saw the Real Obama,” which is a rehash of the first presidential debate in Denver, the only one that matters, according to you. I will usually go out on a limb to defend you, but I have to say I am disappointed in you and wonder why it is so important to you to have a guy with an “R” after his name in the White House, why?
A few weeks ago there was much sputtering and coughing over on the far right end of the dial over your withering critique of the Romney campaign. I knew better than to hope that you might be switching teams and figured that the column was intended to be a butt-kicker to your candidate.
Butt-kicking received apparently, because the Romney who showed up in Denver was far more commanding than the awkward guy who tries too hard, the almost-loveable Romney whom Jason Sudeikis parodies so brilliantly on Saturday Night Live (“Eee-ey-eee-i-o”).
Maybe, like me, Obama expected that guy to show up for the Denver debate and was caught off guard. Or maybe, as Bob Woodward has suggested, he was distracted by some crisis in the world or in his personal life that will only come to light in due course.
As I watched him standing there so passively on the podium, I thought back to the breathless reporting the day before on Fox News about an “explosive” video with never-before-seen footage of Obama. The leaked video, we were told, contained racially inflammatory remarks about unequal treatment of Katrina victims as compared to victims of 9-11.”On the eve of the first presidential debate, a bombshell is about to be dropped,” promised Sean Hannity as he unveiled footage of a younger-looking Obama in 2007 making run-of-the mill observations about Katrina and giving a “shout-out” to Jeremiah Wright.
The real point of airing the video, however, was evident in remarks by Tucker Carlson, looking overly somber and trying hard to keep a straight face. Carlson and Hannity saved their greatest outrage for the cadence of Obama’s speech before a largely African-American audience. Carlson said, “This accent is absurd. This is not the way Obama talks, at least not in the dozens of, scores of public appearances I’ve watched him give.”
The night before the first debate, Fox News seemed to be saying, “we don’t know the real Obama. When he’s in front of ‘his people’ and thinks you’re not looking, he becomes a totally different, alien person, angry, god-damning America with Jeremiah Wright.”
Other than the lack of real news, even for Fox, what is striking is the way they deployed this particular tape. What usually happens with a campaign like this is that the video gets repeated on every Fox show, every right wing radio show nationally and locally, makes headlines on Free Republic and countless bloglets, with an assist by reactive hand wringing and outrage by their counterparts on the left. But this video was different. As suddenly as it appeared, it mysteriously evaporated right after October 3. Maybe it was retired on October 4 because its mission was accomplished.
According to one story, Obama’s debate coaches reported that he ignored the strategy they worked out with him after a last minute meeting with his “inner circle” right before curtain time. Was his campaign rattled by all the noise about this “explosive” video? Did they tell him to “keep the bass out of his voice” so the viewers would not be reminded of the “angry” image of Obama that Fox was trying to promote? Did the Obama campaign fall prey to a Fox News psy-op?
Whatever the reason, we both agree that the president was off his game, but your interpretation that he was “petulant, put upon, above it all, full of himself,” is unfair and unfounded.
You quoted a member of the U.S. Senate who regrets having to tell “people back home” that “it wasn’t a miscalculation or a weird moment….That guy on stage, that’s the real Obama.” But who is this unnamed Senator?
One U.S. Senator, Mitch McConnell, has been famously quoted as saying that his number one priority was to make Barack Obama a one-term president by making sure that nothing did would succeed. George Voinovich, former Republican Senator from Ohio, is quoted in Michael Grunwald’s book The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, as saying “If (Obama) was for it, we had to be against it.” This makes it unlikely that, “If he had been large-spirited and conciliatory he would have effectively undercut them, and kept them from uniting” as you suggest in your column.
The New, New Deal is about the controversial stimulus bill. Grunwald argues that not only did it keep the country from sliding into a second great depression but also paid for wonky-sounding yet effective initiatives like digitizing health records while cutting taxes.
The stimulus is just one of the many changes that this administration has brought about in the face of filibusters, tea partiers, and an entire cable news channel devoted to its destruction. These include Dodd-Frank banking reforms, the end to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, confirmations of two Supreme Court justices, the Credit Card Act, which banned “universal default” (the Dickensian practice of allowing one late payment to count as default against all of one’s creditors), ending the war in Iraq, saving the U.S. auto industry, banning torture by the military, toppling Qaddafi, health care reform legislation and “neutralizing” Osama bin Laden.
I have to agree with one of your criticisms of the president: he is boring. He admitted as much when he said that wherever he goes, people are disappointed if he arrives without the warmer and far more charismatic First Lady. With the exception of the remarkable and necessary speech he gave in Cairo as part of his so-called “apology tour” he has delivered lectures and focused on minutiae in the way that Democrats will do and which Frank Luntz has made a career out of.
He is also boring for not delivering a good, old fashioned scandal that the general public recognizes as one, despite all of Darrell Issa’s exertions.
The Real Obama, the one Governor Chris Christie saw this week, is a stealth president who is all about quietly and competently getting the job done, often letting others take credit. Another “boring” president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, operated in much the same way.
Maybe the first order of business for Obama’s second term should be to hire a decent speechwriter. Know any?