Jesus, god almighty, Obama, would you focus for goddsake? For months the right has been taunting us about how Obama is looking more and more like a new Jimmy Carter.
He’s not, but not for any good reason — at times he’s looking as hapless as Carter’s predecessor Gerald Ford, the original can-‘t-walk-and-chew-gum guy.
Obama’s latest was to make an off-the-cuff remark about Kanye West’s rude dissing of spun-white-sugar country pop princess Taylor Swift who beat out Beyonce for best video in one of the 900 annual awards ceremonies hosted by the American music industry.
“He’s a jackass,” Obama told reporters as they were getting ready for an on-record interview, for CNBC. Then he asked them not to run it because “I have enough on my plate already.” But CNBC was sharing a feed with ABC, who ran the story. Tricked? Or can’t take a trick?
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Now, there was nothing wrong with Obama asking for his comments to stay off the record. Kanye West is not a matter of national policy. Nor is it his fault that one organisation aired the remarks in contravention of their own guidelines.
But God it looks lame, and powerless. It makes the most powerful man in the world look like a relief teacher who can’t control his class.
How does one avoid getting into such a situation? Easy. Regard the press as the enemy, and keep the remarks brief, and clearly on record. Restrict off the record stuff to trusted political friends in the meeja. And so on.
It appears that Obama is a victim of his persisting belief that things can be done differently, a la bipartisanship, relations between adults etc — and the assumption that journalists reporting the administration’s proposed financial reforms might regard that as the important story, and something about a rapper as pointless gossip. Not in America. Or anywhere else.
Yes NUBO NUBO NUBO*. Don’t tell me about NUBO. I invented NUBO. But NUBO is wearing pretty thin at the moment. If there’s a plan to the ham-fisted way in which team Obama got the health-care business rolling, it’s a bloody subtle and multi-layered one. Whatever political advantages there have been and there are some — it has deepened the split within the Republican party, with those GOPers even willing to discuss health care reform branded as traitors by their hyperactive grassroots — they have been outweighed by the perception of diffidence, lack of resolve and failure to claim the moral high ground on the issue.
NUBO was a principle developed to counteract what anyone who follows politics for any length of time knows — the best explanation for curious behaviour is usually chaos and error, not hyper subtlety. You could imagine, for example, that the Coalition’s question time performance is a sort of Dada guerrilla warfare, designed to make the process unworkable. But most likely it is simply a new level of failure given the vacuum of leadership — old-hands like Minchin, Abbott and Pyne (Pyne as old hand! Doogie’s all grown up!) are simply running their own ticket, given that their Laurel and Hardy leaders can offer no way forward.
An even better picture of epic fail comes from the new revelations of the last days of the Bush White House, by speechwriter Matt Latimer, in this month’s GQ. Latimer shows that Dubya was totally at sea with the substance and detail of the chaotic bail-out process, initially voted down by Congress, but that he retained a degree of political nous. Unhappily for the conservative Palin-pity-party, much of that nous applied to the divine Sarah. “Who is she, the governor of Guam?” Bush remarked, as his staff went ape sh-t for her, imagining that she’d saved the Republican ticket. “This is a woman who’s never performed at the national level. Let’s see how she’s doing in five days.”
The rest is the end of history. Since major parts of Obama’s campaign in 08 seemed to work exactly as he and his team had appeared to hope they would — his initial reticence on a solution to the GFC looked like careful leadership as John McCain melted down — an assumption of chaos was suspended. And when some sort of health bill gets through — it is still when, isn’t it? Not if? — Obama will have succeeded where all since LBJ failed, and much of the current malarkey will be reassessed in retrospect.
But the administration is fast losing the opportunity to develop an image and reality of decisiveness and resolve, as the appearance of improvisation and staggering from crisis to crisis accumulate. Trick-wise, if you can’t take one, with the hand that won you the bid, then it’s obvious that you’re leading with the wrong cards, and it’s time to play to your strengths and bloody focus, argggghhhh.
MARK DAY VERSION: The man who runs America — the place where the people who tell you what to write live — is having a difficult time of it, and accidentally insulted a popular Negro skiffle musician. Things may improve, or they may not. Some metaphors requiring a year 10 comprehension were employed to illustrate this point.
*Never Underestimate Barack Obama. Last time you get this crib.