“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Heck of a Job, Mr. President

Heck of a president

Washington Post

Kathleen Parker
Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's always risky to appear onstage with a comedian. Not only are funny guys funny, but they're also aggressive.

Indeed, humor is nothing but aggression harnessed and saddled - and nobody today rides that horse as well as Jon Stewart.

So what was President Obama thinking when he submitted to a nearly 30-minute interview with the Comedy Central star? He was thinking, of course, that he could rekindle some of the love with his base. Seventy-four percent of Stewart's audience falls into the 18-49 demographic otherwise known as - money.


As others have noted, Stewart is a superb interviewer. No surprise there. The funniest people are also often the smartest people in the room.

Stewart asked all the right questions and managed to get the president to answer most of them. Should he have called the president "dude"? As a matter of decorum, the short answer is no. But in the context of the moment, who could resist?

Stewart had just asked Obama how he could square his campaign mantra of "change" with hiring economic advisers such as Larry Summers, who looks the same as those who had served in previous administrations. In response, Obama said that Summers had done a "heck of a job."

Whereupon, Stewart said, "You don't want to use that phrase, dude."

Everyone got the joke. George W. Bush used the same words to commend Michael "Brownie" Brown after his disastrous performance as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency following Hurricane Katrina. Translation: You're fired.

Everyone got the joke, that is, except for Obama. He got it eventually, after seeing the "oops" expression on Stewart's face, but he couldn't take the joke. There's a world of difference.

Instead of laughing at himself, he turned to the audience - a beat too late - and said, "Pun intended."

No, it wasn't. Anyone watching could see that. He slipped. Obama is a nice guy; he was trying to say something nice about Summers, and "heck of a job" just tumbled out. No big deal. We get it. Stuff happens. But Obama couldn't roll with the gut punch.

In that, among other moments, Obama revealed his fatal flaw. He has no sense of humor. He might be able to laugh at a joke. He can even tell one, as he demonstrated at the last White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Whoever wrote that script should send his rsum to Comedy Central. Oh, wait, some of the writers do work at Comedy Central.

No, what Obama revealed was that he has no sense of humor about himself. This is utterly huge.

It is entirely appropriate that the president take his job seriously. And no one would urge Obama (or anyone else) to try to be funny with Jon Stewart. He's the funny guy, and producers doubtless remind guests of that fact.

A good guest on "The Daily Show" is expected to be the straight man so that the comedian has some place to go with the material. I'm sure there's a Rolodex of "bad guests" who tried to out-funny the comedian.

But it is imperative that leaders not take themselves too seriously. What should Obama have done instead? How about saying: "I can't believe I just said that"? Or, "Oy!"? Whatever. Anything to signal to the audience that, "Oh, well, I'm human."

But Obama isn't very good at human. His smile is a beam of light, but too often it seems to turn on and off with a switch. Missing is the spontaneous response that says, dare I say it, "I'm you." (Pun intended.) More often, Obama comes across as a body snatcher. Good choice of pods, but we might need to add a little juice to the "emotion" grid.

Like a majority of Americans, I like Obama. He seems to be a thoroughly decent guy, but he's more suited to chess than schmooze. You can almost see him calculating his answers, even hinting at admiration when Stewart made a good comeback. He all but says, "Nice move."

Cutting the president some slack, we might acknowledge that these are tough times. Agree or not with his policies, Obama has had a very tough two years. The media are relentless. So are the Republicans.

But in the human game we call life, victory and failure are respectively sweeter and less bitter if one is able to laugh at one's very own self.

Heck of a job, Mr. President.


  1. Talk about the magic being gone.

  2. I'll always remember those styrofoam pillars.

  3. His biggest mistake may have been pumping himself up too high. In Shakepeare there's a scene where the father is turning over the crown to the son--'don't put on airs, don't pump yourself up at first, don'
    t raise expectations' O certainly did all of that with his stopping the tides nonsense---who did he think he was, Xerxes?

  4. This local contest between Minnick and Labrador is interesting. The local Tea Party here actually endorsed Minnick, the deomcrat, who returned the favor by telling them to shove it, so they went over to Labrador's side. He is an immigration attorney, and has been attacked for that. RCP had it at leaning Minnick for a while but now it's supposed to be even The ads are about even in frequency and quality. Hard to say. Listening to Labrador on the mighty KBOI I was impressed. Late at night it turns into the Midnight Radio Network, home to truckers and the other sleepless.

    "The Corner Garage didn't become Jiffy Lube overnight."

    "Capitalism is the basis of Western Democracy, Dude."


  5. bob said...

    "I'll always remember those styrofoam pillars."


    Yeah, reminds you of that time in the freezing river.
    But that was your mini me.

  6. Obama is the last laugh

    Still, the president did not really quarrel with Stewart's notion that Obama has done some of his work in a "political manner that has papered over a foundation that is corrupt."

    "I think that is fair," Obama granted.

    But when Stewart moved, politely, to point out weaknesses in the health-care legislation, Obama pointed at him again. "Not true!" the president argued.

    Obama wore a displeased grin as Stewart diagnosed, with high accuracy, the administration's condition: "The expectation, I think, was audacity going in there and really rooting out a corrupt system, and so the sense is, has [the] reality of what hit you in the face when you first stepped in caused you to back down from some of the more visionary things?"

    "My attitude is if we're making progress, step by step, inch by inch, day by day," Obama said, "that we are being true to the spirit of that campaign."

    "You wouldn't say you'd run this time as a pragmatist? It wouldn't be, 'Yes we can, given certain conditions?'"

    "I think what I would say is yes we can, but -- "

    Stewart, and the audience, laughed at the "but."

    Obama didn't laugh. "But it's not going to happen overnight," he finished.

    Try shouting that slogan at a campaign rally, dude.

  7. Wish Trish could read this.

    ...and the entire fussilade being launched at M. Simon @ BC.

    161. RWE

    A comment I read a while back on the National Review website would be appropriate to interject here.

    A writer said that he attended some of the national Libertarian Party conventions and had two main observations:

    1. Serious and substantial policy issues were discussed in a manner that is simply not done at the Democratic and Republican conventions.
    2. The majority of the delegates were insane.

    And example of the insanity given was that there were delegates saying that people should simply stop paying their taxes, that argument being countered by those that said that whether you paid you taxes or not was irrelevant because the US Dollar was not worth anything intrinsically.

    In reality, I think if you take any philosophy to its ultimate conclusions you end up with insanity. That happened with the Democrats some time ago, and much of the problem with the Republicans is that they have been trying to deal with such insane people, ones who somehow got hold of a set of car keys and drove to DC, using the approach of Compassionate Conservatism.

  8. I laughed so hard when I read that.

    It's hard to stay serious sometimes.

    Well, much of the time for me, but I'm trying.

  9. Although I think it is a gracious interpretation of what happened to the Republicans. I favor a more venal context. AWOL.

  10. This is not my affair but I recall Trish's mother was treated for cancer awhile back which suggests that while she may be in the process of severing relations with her husband, she may also be dealing with other stressors.

    None of which are my business.

  11. 4 to zip Texas ahead top of the 6th.

  12. The Police Department and the Fire Department have disapproved four of my street names. So there you have it back to square one after three times around the block. They are evidently prejudiced against Native Americans cause they knocked all those names out. Their excuse was similarity of sounds and difficulty of recognition. We've now dealt with nearly twenty people on the names alone, which I thought were approved. We need one Indian chief and a lot of Indians.

  13. I know what I'll do!

    I'll file a complaint with the city's Civil Rights Commission against the cops and the firemen :)

    Obvious case of discrimination, now i think about it.

  14. Think what a superhero it would make me look like---developer fights on in favor of Native American street names.

    Most of the people like that stuff here.

    I could start a Foundation....

  15. .
    Hopefully, Trish will show up over the next few days to offer her insights on the pending election.

    When there was talk of shutting the EB, the one reason she mentioned to keep it open was to see what happened Nov.2 and obviously to comment on it.


  16. GREAT clip on the spiders, Sam. :)

  17. That video on the spiders was brought to you by the First Church of Christ Foundation, if I read it right.

  18. I'm even less enthusiastic about voting this year than I was in 2008, if that's possible.

    There's probably some value in replacing a few Crooks with a few idiots, but it's not much of a "Rallying Cry."

  19. I'm more enthusiastic but not by much.

    I hope the dems get an historical trouncing.

  20. Bumpersticker of the day:

    Vote for the Nutjob; It's Important.

  21. Minnick was born in Walla Walla, Washington, and grew up on a wheat farm. He received his bachelor's degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla in 1964 where he participated on the debate team, and was then accepted to the Harvard Business School. After graduating with an MBA in 1966, he entered Harvard Law School, and graduated with a J.D. in 1969. He is a businessman and politician who resides in Boise. A veteran who served in the Army and Pentagon during the Vietnam War, he is the former leader of a forestry industry and founder of a chain of retail nurseries, SummerWinds Garden Centers.[1][2] Minnick also served as CEO of TJ International (acquired by Weyerhaeuser in 1999[3]) and has served on the board of directors of several corporations and non-profit organizations.
    [edit] Early political career

    Minnick served as a staff assistant to President Richard Nixon on the White House Domestic Council from 1971–72 and as a deputy assistant director for the Office of Management and Budget from 1972-73. He was also involved in the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Minnick resigned from the administration in October 1973 in protest of the Watergate-era "Saturday Night Massacre" in which Nixon dismissed Attorney General Elliot Richardson, special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and others. Minnick is the only former Nixon administration staff member currently in Congress.[4]

    Minnick, who long considered himself a political independent, was recruited to run against incumbent Senator Larry Craig in 1996 by then Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. Although Minnick originally intended to enter the race as an independent, he was convinced to run as a Democrat by former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus.[4]

    Nice background but I'm voting for the other guy.

  22. After Election Obama To Flee United States----

    October 30, 2010
    After Election, Obama to Flee US
    By David Paul Kuhn

    Barack Obama is fleeing the United States after the Republican landslide. But hold the excitement conservatives. It's only temporary.

    Winners might go to Disneyland. But defeated presidents seemingly favor Asia.

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    David Paul Kuhn RealClearPolitics
    2010 election Barack Obama

    Bill Clinton fled to Asia not long after Democrats suffered their historic blowout in 1994. George W. Bush was Asia bound following his famous declaration of the GOP's "thumpin'" in the 2006 midterm election. Now Obama shall do the same. And in record time.

    A mere three days after Tuesday's election, President Obama leaves for a 10-day sojourn abroad. Obama's taking more time away than Clinton or Bush. But Obama will likely have more to recover from. Tuesday's election could be the largest landslide since FDR's day.

    White Houses dependably claim these trips are coincidence. It's pro forma spin. Administrations cite this occasion or that summit. More though is always at play.

  23. Email from friend:

    We need to get a Senator to introduce this bill in the US Senate and a Representative to introduce a similar bill in the US House. These people will become American heroes

    Congressional Reform Act of 2010

    1. Term Limits.

    12 years only.

    A. Two Six-year Senate terms
    B. Up to Six Two-year House terms

    2. No second consecutive term / No Pension benefits.

    A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

    3. Congress (past, present & future) MUST participate in Social Security. This includes ALL congressional staffers and administrative employees.

    All funds set aside for the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. No future funding allowed and all payments stop for the current system. Current Congressional retirees are eligible only to the extent they have earnings and have made payments into the existing Social Security system.

    4. Congress can purchase their own additional retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

    5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

    6. Congress loses its current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

    7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people. They are specifically NOT to be excluded from the provisions of ANY law they pass.

    8. All previous contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/11.

    The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

  24. It does seem the elections are going to take place on Tuesday as planned. I recall some of the people at BC predicting coups, counter-coups, military take overs, fighting in the streets, all sorts of stuff. Good old USA.

  25. It's 3 am and I miss Trish on these drunken nights when no else will talk to me.