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 »
WORDS AND PICTURES
White House Looks Back on bin Laden Mission
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
NO BATTLE OVER SEATTLE
SCOTUS Won’t Hear Appeal of Minimum-Wage Law
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a sweeping constitutional challenge to Seattle’s minimum wage law, in what could have been a test case for future legal attacks on similar measures across the country. In a one-line order, the justices declined to hear a case by the International Franchise Association and a group of Seattle franchisees, which had said in court papers that the city’s gradual wage increase to $15 discriminates against them in a way that violates the Constitution’s commerce clause."

Source:
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Sanders Looks to Right the Ship in Indiana
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

Hillary Clinton may have the Democratic nomination sewn up, but Bernie Sanders apparently isn't buying it. Buoyed by a poll showing them in a "virtual tie," Sanders is "holding three rallies on the final day before the state primary and hoping to pull off a win after a tough week of election losses and campaign layoffs." 

Source:
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION IN JUNE
DC to Release Draft Constitution as Part of Statehood Push
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The New Columbia Statehood Commission—composed of five District leaders including Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and D.C.'s congressional delegation—voted today to publicly release a draft of a new constitution for an eventual state next Friday, at the Lincoln Cottage." It's the first step in a statehood push this year that will include a constitutional convention in June and a referendum in November.

Source:
ALZHEIMER’S OUTCRY
Will Ferrell Bails on Reagan Movie
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Amid outcry by President Reagan's children, actor Will Ferrell has pulled out of a movie that makes light of Reagan's Alzheimer's disease. A spokesperson for Ferrell said, “The ‘Reagan’ script is one of a number of scripts that had been submitted to Will Ferrell which he had considered. While it is by no means an ‘Alzheimer’s comedy’ as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project."

Source:
×