A (Qualified) Salute to President Obama’s Style

Style matters in politics, and a fresh one might help Obama break out of his malaise.

National Journal
Ron Fournier
July 31, 2014, 6:55 a.m.

For a man who likes to pooh-pooh White House op­tics, Pres­id­ent Obama can be a mas­ter of polit­ic­al theat­er. Watch this video from his speech in Mis­souri on Wed­nes­day and no­tice how he dis­mantles House GOP op­pos­i­tion. Calm, con­fid­ent, and charm­ing, Obama was Harry S. Tru­man with a mega­watt smile. Give ‘em hell, yes, but not too much. No an­ger or scorn, no con­des­cend­ing lec­tures that too of­ten course through Obama’s speeches and turn off all but hardened Demo­crats.

Is this the start of something new? (Keep read­ing for why it’s prob­ably not.)

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 5136) }}

(0:01): “So far this year, Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress keep block­ing or vot­ing down just about every idea that would have some of the biggest im­pact on the middle-class and work­ing-class fam­il­ies.” This is about halfway through his speech, and he’s just get­ting warmed up.

(0:17): “They’ve said no to rais­ing the min­im­um wage. They’ve said no to fair pay.” Now comes the boil­er­plate list of lib­er­al ini­ti­at­ives blocked by the con­ser­vat­ive House. What’s in­ter­est­ing is the tone. Obama shrugs. He smiles. He even chuckles while mak­ing his case against the GOP-led House. He’s ex­plain­ing, not be­rat­ing, and I sus­pect the former is a more ef­fect­ive way to per­suade than the lat­ter.

(1:44): “That’s when we act — when your Con­gress won’t.” This is an in­ter­est­ing use of pro­nouns. “We” rather than “I,” and “your Con­gress” rather than “the Con­gress.” He is mak­ing an ar­gu­ment big­ger than him­self and drag­ging his audi­ence in­to it. It’s also a tight talk­ing point: eight words that evoke Tru­man’s 1948 reelec­tion rant against a “Do-Noth­ing” Con­gress.

(4:10): “We could do so much more if Con­gress would just come on and help out a little bit.” Now he turns on the well-prac­ticed charm. “Just — just come on. Come on and help out a little bit.” Beam­ing, he ges­tures to­ward the stage, rhet­or­ic­ally wav­ing Re­pub­lic­ans aboard. “Stop be­ing mad all the time.” The par­tis­an crowd cheers, his smile widens. “Stop. Stop. Stop just hat­in’ all the time.” Drop­ping the “g” is a politi­cian’s way of sound­ing just like us, and for Obama it might soften the edges on what is oth­er­wise a harsh at­tack. He’s call­ing House Re­pub­lic­ans haters. “Come on. Let’s get some work done to­geth­er.”

A caveat: This rhet­or­ic is iron­ic, if not hy­po­crit­ic­al. Obama des­pises GOP lead­ers at least as much as they do him. He wal­lows in his frus­tra­tion, his ac­tions too of­ten guided by his dark­er emo­tions. Let’s get some work done? That’s rich. Al­most as soon as he as­sumed the pres­id­ency, Obama aban­doned his fun­da­ment­al prom­ise to cre­ate a bi­par­tis­an work­ing en­vir­on­ment in Wash­ing­ton.

But style mat­ters in polit­ics. Obama would still be in the Illinois Sen­ate if didn’t mat­ter — and if it’s not too late to res­cue his pres­id­ency from its second-term mal­aise, a new style might be a start­ing point.

What We're Following See More »
ON GUN RIGHTS
Trump Jr. Meeting with GOP Members
9 hours ago
THE LATEST
FLOPPY DISKS
US Nukes Rely on Decades-Old Tech
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS
‘NO BASIS IN LAW’
Eleven States Sue Administration Over Transgender Bathroom Access
11 hours ago
THE LATEST

The great restroom war of 2016 continues apace, as eleven states have sued the Obama administration in federal court, claiming its federal guidance on how schools should accommodate transgender students "has no basis in law." "The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on behalf of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The lawsuit argues that the federal government has worked to turn workplaces and schools 'into laboratories for a massive social experiment.'"

Source:
CONTRARY TO REPORTS
Ryan Not Endorsing Trump Just Yet
14 hours ago
THE LATEST
OTHER SECRETARIES AT FAULT, TOO
State Dept. Review Faults Clinton Email Management
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A State Department audit has faulted Hillary Clinton and previous secretaries of state for poorly managing email and other computer information and slowly responding to new cybersecurity risks. ... It cites 'longstanding, systemic weaknesses' related to communications. These started before Clinton's appointment as secretary of state, but her failures were singled out as more serious."

Source:
×