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April 30, 2013

This is Just Bizarre

Ezra Klein, on the President's stealth delivery of what Klein calls "harsh truths":

“Everybody has got plenty of advice,” sighed President Obama at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. “Maureen Dowd said I could solve all my problems if I were just more like Michael Douglas in ‘The American President.’ And I know Michael is here tonight. Michael, what’s your secret, man? Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy? Might that have something to do with it?”

That’s it. That’s the joke. Or, perhaps more to the point, that isn’t the joke. There’s no punchline. It’s more of a straightforward rebuttal to a recent Maureen Dowd column.

Obama’s speech at the White House correspondents’ dinner was well received, and for good reason — it was very funny. But there were a lot of moments when Obama seemed to be subverting the rules of the evening in order to get away with telling harsh truths that he could later claim were just jokes.

“Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress,” the president said. “‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
Everyone laughed. But do you detect an actual joke there? And lest you think I’m cutting the punchline, here’s Obama’s next sentence: “I’m sorry. I get frustrated sometimes.”

Since we seem to be overanalyzing things this week, let's break this down a bit further. Klein's first "harsh truth" involves a President contemptuously dismissing a female critic whose grasp of politics was (Obama slyly suggests) shaped by watching sappy romantic comedies.

The "straightforward rebuttal" Klein refers to seems to consist of the President of the United States snootily suggesting that a female pundit is way out of her depth. "You've been watching too many B movies, sweetie" isn't a rebuttal, by the way; straightforward or otherwise. Klein's post contains a link to the Dowd piece. To imply her argument consisted of advising Obama to act more like Michael Douglas is stunningly dishonest.

The irony here is that the Michael Douglas shtick would actually work as a joke. But Klein maintains the President wasn't joking.
Think about that for a moment.

"Non-joke" number two: apparently, the President doesn't think having a drink with the Senate Minority Leader would be more fun than the proverbial barrel of monkeys. He doesn't want to have to talk to McConnell. He'd rather someone else do it. How about you? It's not as though he's being paid to run the country.

Of course you know where this is going - a full blown apologia for Obama's unwillingness/inability to work with the other party:

If Republicans don’t want to work with President Obama, there’s nothing he can do to make them work with him.

Actually, there is something Obama can do to get Republicans to work with him. He can offer them concessions they can't get on their own. That's the entire point of negotiation - it's a long process of offer and counteroffer that is supposed to result in both parties getting something they want by offering something the other party values.

If you don't offer anything (or the value of what you offer doesn't outweigh what you're asking the other party to give up), there will be no deal. Period. Charm isn't enough. Speeches that gin up animosity against Republicans or accuse them of bad faith make it harder, not easier, to meet in the middle. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound:

... politicians understand their incentives. Republican legislators have to win primaries among electorates that deeply dislike President Obama. In that world, working with the White House very likely means losing your job. It also means making Obama more popular, which means making it less likely that you and your party will get back into the majority in the next election. And on the other side of this equation is — what? Bourbon with Obama? A speech Obama gave to 2,000 people in your state?

The White House can employ better or worse strategies, of course. But it’s deeply insulting to the grown men and women who populate the U.S. Congress to posit that the only reason they’re acting as they are is that the president doesn’t lavish them with sufficient attention, or campaign in their districts, or twist arms like Lyndon Johnson. Give Congress a bit more credit than that. Like the president at the White House correspondents’ dinner, they take this stuff seriously.

It's deeply insulting to the grown men and women who populate Congress to suggest they would rather placate irrational voters who loathe Democrats so much that they can't wait to hand them the White House for 12 or even 16 years in a row than do their jobs.

I keep wondering when the immovable incentives that prevent Democrats and Republicans from compromising came into being? During the last administration, I'm pretty sure Mr. Klein wasn't complaining about the perverse incentives preventing Democrats from working with George Bush. Nor do I recall him suggesting there was nothing Bush could offer Democrats that would overcome their deep seated loathing for him (or their fear of irrational and deeply partisan voters in their home districts).

So it must just be those horrid, irrational Republicans after all. If that's not a straightforward rebuttal to the growing bipartisan consensus that this President doesn't know how to govern, we don't know what would be.

Posted by Cassandra at April 30, 2013 12:18 PM

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You mean Klien just noticed that Obama likes to hurl insults at people who disagree with him???

Who knew?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 30, 2013 05:04 PM

Yu-ain, you ignorant slut :p

Insults hurled at Republicans are "harsh truths" that must be expressed boldly and forthrightly (well, kinda sorta....), while leaving yourself plenty of cover if they backfire. Or as Klein says,

...there were a lot of moments when Obama seemed to be subverting the rules of the evening in order to get away with telling harsh truths that he could later claim were just jokes.

"Why Ms. Dowd... whatever possessed you to think I was suggesting that you're an incompetent hack who lives in a liberal fantasy world? I'm *sure* I never meant to imply such a thing."

It's all in fun :p

Posted by: Sister Mary Bag O'Metaphors at April 30, 2013 05:13 PM

I thought this was a particular amusing display of Obamasplaining.

That's what the media do when Obama does something that kind of bugs them - they jump in with elaborate explanations about how what seems like boorish or incompetent behavior is really an extraordinarily clever coded meta metamessage (like the racist dog whistle thingamajobber) that only extraordinarily clever people can decipher.

Posted by: Cass at April 30, 2013 05:21 PM

Hey, considering the quality of her work since about say, 1998, MoDowd ought to be tickled that anybody remembered her at all. That said, President Obama speech was actually very funny because The Times said so.

Posted by: ... .--. -.. / .-. -.. .-. at April 30, 2013 05:30 PM

I'm just glad Obama's comments to Dowd weren't another sexist volley in the War on Women.

That would have been ugly.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 30, 2013 05:36 PM

It's kinda appropriate though, that a guy who turns himself inside-out to defend Obama shares a namesake with the Klein-Bottle?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano who enjoys too much Geek Humor at April 30, 2013 05:48 PM

Good one, YAG. :)

Posted by: Grim at April 30, 2013 06:28 PM

I am shocked... shocked to find snarking going on in this establishment.

Posted by: Cass at April 30, 2013 07:03 PM

Well said, Cassandra.

Posted by: CAPT Mike at April 30, 2013 10:12 PM

Ezra Klein dutifully analyzes his Thought Leader, Barack Hussein Obama, and proclaims that his subtle but powerful ideas are the narrative and one true truth.

Or something like that.

Could it be any other way?

No matter what, Klein and the rest his Journolist Nomenklatura would have praised what whatever Obama uttered.

Because that's the way they roll.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at April 30, 2013 10:50 PM

"Because that's the way they roll."

Don, I think you mean *bob*. Genuflecting usually results in a bobbing motion as opposed to a rolling action.
Besides, *bob* is the more accurate description of what is really going on there.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 1, 2013 11:20 AM

I'm going to disagree with our esteemed host, and (yeegads!) agree with Mr. President, re: M. Dowd.

Actually, since Oboy cribbed the idea from Megan McArdle (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/23/memo-the-aaron-sorkin-model-of-political-discourse-doesn-t-actually-work.html)
I'm really not agreeing with him. That's a relief, I thought I was losing it. :-)

Read her critique of Dowd's proposal. It's factual, and how can it be sexist when it's written by a woman? It's not "silly woman", it's "silly columnist who's proposal is not based in reality". Dowd's plumbing is irrelevant to either her proposal or the critique of same.

Posted by: bud at May 1, 2013 07:48 PM

...I'm going to disagree with our esteemed host,

I suspect that's one of the qualifying criteria for commenting here :)

FWIW, I don't really believe the sexism angle - it's just that Obama was so ready to label Romney a horrible, womyn-hating sexist oinker that I can't quite resist applying the WARONWOMYNS!!!11! shtick to Obama :p

I used to make fun of MoDope quite a bit before I got bored. I actually thought she made some good points in her article.

The one about not claiming whatever bill you're sponsoring is The Most Important Thing Evah, then turning right around and announcing to the media that you'll probably lose (while doing absolutely NOTHING to head off that eventuality) was spot on.

Obama does that all the time. There's a crisis, he makes a big, hairy deal of it with lots of posturing about he's going to "fix" everything. Then he skates off to his next Number One Priority (about which he'll do exactly... nothing, unless you count talking trash and posturing dramatically). There's a lot to be said for LBJ's ability to twist arms and line up support in Congress, all behind doors.

Obama can't even have a moment of silence in solitude w/out inviting the White House press corps and publishing his Moment of Solitude on Flicker.

Obama displays none of LBJ's political acumen. His style is to whip up popular sentiment while trying to pretend he's doing something about the problem du jure. But he never lays it all on the line. Dowd's right - no one's scared of him and no one takes him seriously... because he's not serious.

Posted by: Cass at May 1, 2013 09:53 PM

My issue isn't really the rebuttableness of MoDo's column. Obama's point in this particular is spot on.

The issue is that, typically, Presidents do not hurl insults at private citizens in public.

Klein, for his part, seems to confuse boorish behavior with something new and politically clever.

This, despite it being Obama's MO for the last 4 years.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano who enjoys too much Geek Humor at May 2, 2013 09:36 AM