“We Shouldn’t Have Allowed” the Cameras In.

I’m not surprised that the House Republican caucus’s takeaway from the floor-wiping they took at the hands of Barack Obama today in Baltimore is that they really need to avoid these kinds of transparent, unmediated interaction with an enemy they’ve painted as everything from a Marxian socialist to a Kenyan interloper. After all, look at the damned tape. They sounded worse than they looked, which is kind of an amazing statement considering John  Boehner’s year round Ohio tan.

The instant consensus is that the Republicans were sandbagged by Obama, who accepted their invitation to speak at their retreat and … negotiated that cameras be allowed to run throughout, from his prepared statements through the Q&A, which, in its back and forth of charge and summary refutation, is where the GOP caucus pretty well — okay, completely — choked on its own talking points and tripped over its lobbyist-tied wing tips.

I’m a big fan of Prime Minister’s Question Time, (the British version). Gordon Brown is a stiff, as we all know. A pale shadow of Tony Blair, who clearly loved the play of batting away every zinger the opposition threw his way. But good entertainment aside, the weekly event allows the public — you know, those pesky voters — a far, FAR more real and relevant assessment of opposing arguments than canned commercials and/or, god help us, 15 second sound bites fine sliced for commercial news. Everyone wins a few and everyone loses a few, and even a natural TV performer like Blair — currently tap-dancing his way through an official British inquiry into how they/we got into Iraq (something else we don’t do here) — couldn’t hide, in the end, his lack of diligence on the pre-war intelligence and skepticism at what the Bush-Cheney team was selling him.

The early reviews of today’s Obama v. GOP Baltimore event have been ecstatic — from the White House and liberals and some of the better media watchers — people critical of the bizarre isolation of dialogue on matters of enormous national relevance to competing cable channels and flying counter-charges in the “serious press”. This event today, whether wholly plotted by Team Obama, or accepted based on his supreme confidence in controlling any crowd at any time, is smacking some as a revelation. And it should.

There’s zero chance the Republicans — whose last President barnstormed around the country speaking to tightly controlled groups of fawning sycophants and even then frequently screened their questions for, you know, anything unpleasant — will consent to something like this Baltimore thing on a regular basis, and certainly not with live cameras. The reason? They know they have no game in a direct debate. They’re legislative “success” to date is based entirely on obstruction and outrageous-to-absurd fear-mongering, (death panels, 13 year-olds getting federally-funded abortions, wholesale socialism, an Obama-created deficit triple everything that’s come before  — points for chutzpah to Texas Cong. Jeb Hensarling for wading into that one).

Despite their incessant talk about “beliefs”, (like merely “believing” something is a virtue of any great value), little to none of that translates into an actual legislative agenda, with coherent, fiscally-responsible bills and such, designed to solve bona fide problems. And no, I don’t consider “the march toward socialism” a major, bona fide issue. Modern Republicans have an act that only really works when the opposition — Obama, mainly — in is isolated in the abstract, as the ghoulish “Joker” face sawing the legs out from under our our “freedoms”. (I.e. the “freedom” to “believe” whatever we damned well please, any evidence to the contrary.)

But one on one, face to face, live, and un-cut by any restless, fidgety editor/news director at FoxNews, MSNBC or WCCO, Obama not only sounds reasonable and in command of his facts — reminding Hensarling et al where all that debt came from and how much was built into the system he inherited –  the Republicans don’t. They sound like parrots in the echo chamber, struggling to re-phrase their standard town hall talking points into something just a wee bit more polite … in deference to the actual physical presence of the President. (Joe “You lie!” Wilson did not ask a question as far as I can tell.)

Frankly I was always disappointed that Bill Clinton didn’t try the live Question Time thing with Newt Gingrich and the, um, great legislative opposition of his era. But from what I’ve read, Clinton had far less patience with witless demagoguery … and loved to hear himself talk more than made for good dialogue. Obama has all of Clinton’s brain power — the control over and retrieval of facts and factoids — compounded with far more patience (too much, for some of our tastes) for such mano a mano repartee.

The associated complaint here, and Obama hit it, again, today in Baltimore, is that the modern media — and not just the circus shows on Fox and MSNBC — prefers conflict and the appearance of combat to assessing the truth of countering arguments, much less, god forbid!, a complete airing of the President responding to his most immediate critics, face to face. (Cable channels obviously carried the event today. But in a world where  “Two and a Half Men” is a hit, it’s very hard imagining a broadcast network blowing out an hour and a half a month for anything so … so … relevant.)

Given the instantaneous and all-but universal reaction to today’s Baltimore event, I fully expect the Republicans to politely decline any offer to expand the shtick to a monthly TV act, and for them to “instruct” their leadership to turn the damned cameras off the next time they’re caught in a room with Obama … or any countering argument.direct marketing nice

37 Responses

  1. “Why does the president ever give a speech? Why not just make a few remarks and then take questions,” Keith Olbermann said just now.

    Totally unscripted, no notes, no prompter. He kicked ass and took names.

    The prez looked like the adult, the Repubs like children, one commentator said.

    Gets to the point that set speeches are not a great way to communicate with people. Obama overthinks his speeches, good as they are. He’s gotten too slick with them, too good. I’ve seen that with some of my clients — and they need to break it up a bit, talk like a human, not like a speaker. When Obama just talks, or does this back-and-forth thing, his humor, his charm, his knowledge (imagine Dubya being able to do this?!?!) and his calm all come through, along with a touch of passion, which he needs to show more, methinks.

    A dear friend, Daniel Pitlik, sent this a day or two ago — “You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between the truth and a human being is a story.” — Anthony de Mello.

    So Obama tells us that a lot of Republicans are appearing at ribbon cuttings of infrastructure projects funded by the stimulus, that they voted against — that’s a story that we can get.

    You go, Obama.

    I’m with you, Brian — the Repubs will never let him in the same zip code with them again.

    • I agree, Bruce. The “Question Time” format — even when as in Britain many of the questions are known in advance — has a completely different visceral/psychological impact on audiences. But so does “unmediated” coverage. To watch the “produced” version of Brian Williams minutes later, even after Williams hyping the event as “unprecedented” and “fascinating”, you’d have sworn that it was an even-handed, thrust and parry between two evenly-matched sides … in other words conventional journalism’s routine assertion of “balance” at all times. To listen to radio — other than NPR — all you’d know was that “the President traveled to Baltimore to meet with House Republicans … “, as though the 30 miles trip was the news of the day.

  2. John Boehner needs to be shown the door. What the hell was he thinking.

    I did agree with Obamao when he said that there are more similarities between the two parties than differences. And therein lies the problem.

    • Well we might be able to survive the similarities between the two parties — the constant, thunderous pay-offs by major interest groups into campaign coffers — if one of the sides had any serious intentions toward problem-solving. The Tenn. congresswoman who lectured Obama on all the wonderful proposals she and her colleagues for health insurance reform — you could practically see Obama biting his lip trying not to cut her off and ask, “So where were all these fine and noble proposals back when you had control of both Houses and the Presidency”?

  3. Olbermann is right. Obama is so thoughtful and articulate, and appealing, in that environment. It was riveting TV.

  4. Oh, what a difference one’s perspective makes.

    I thought this was great to watch. Compelling as hell, and I’d love more of it. And I’m not terribly surprised some Republicans reacted to it by immediately thinking the cameras were a bad idea, not some of the bad proposals themselves.

    Still –

    Look at the exchange between Obama and Rep. Ryan of Wisconsin as an example. Ryan asks about this 84 percent increase in “domestic and discretionary spending.” Obama says that 84 percent wasn’t a result of his policies but of the “automatic stabilizers that kick in because of this enormous recession…”

    After the rest of Obama’s response to this and other issues, Ryan continues: “I would simply say that automatic stabilizer spending is mandatory spending. The discretionary spending, the bills that Congresses signs — that you sign into law, that has increased 84 percent. So…”

    Obama: “We’ll have a — we’ll have a longer debate on the budget numbers there, all right?”

    That’s a non-answer. Maybe Obama’s right and doesn’t want get into a tit-for-tat, I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong battle. Or maybe he’s wrong and he knows it so he’s brushing the issue off. Or maybe he doesn’t know and he was caught off guard by Rep. Ryan’s challenge. Who knows? I don’t, but I’d love some help in digging up the right numbers to do the math and figure out who’s right here.

    This was great TV, but I seem to missing that which made it seem to lopsided. I don’t think either side blew the other out of the water. I commend the president for standing in front of this potentially hostile audience to answer questions, and I commend the crowd for remaining civil and rather intelligent.

    Let’s do it again next month. And the next. And the next.

  5. I am with you, Keliher. I am no fan of either party (though I do hold more “conservative views”).

    We all see what we want to see, anyway. Those who have a crush or man crush on Obama will continue to think he is smooth, smart, etc.

    Those who don’t will see him as stiff, evading etc.

    I’m not sure any party has any “legislative success” at this point — at least not one that I would consider as such — just a lot of spending, debt, finger pointing, excuse making and blaming (on both sides). I don’t see many adults.

    Are you allowed to be a politician if you are an adult?

    • Which party has risked the most in terms of offering solutions?

      • The Dems have, no question. Yes, they have offered solutions. However, what they are offering isn’t getting much of a reception. The Repubs need to get off their asses and counter them, instead of sitting on the sidelines, content to appear to be the opposition.

    • Mike, I don’t know how Obama critics can simultaneously say that a) Obama has turned out to be a radical liberal who is destroying our country; and b) Obama has accomplished nothing. Can both things be simultaneously true?

      Here is a list of some of the things I think he has done…

      $789 billion economic stimulus plan to create jobs
      Beginning withdrawal of troops from Iraq
      Increased troops to Afghanistan twice
      Ended the previous stop-loss policy for soldiers
      Removed restrictions on stem-cell research and funding new research
      States permitted to enact fuel efficiency standards above federal standards
      Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants, broadband, schools, utility smart grids, etc.)
      Guantanamo Bay being phased out and torture policy changed
      US Auto industry rescue plan
      Housing rescue plan
      Restarted the nuclear nonproliferation talks
      Cash for clunkers program
      Expanded the SCHIP program to give health care to millions of kids
      Regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions
      New consumer protections from credit card industry’s predatory practices
      The FDA is now regulating tobacco, once thought politically impossible
      Has pushed health reform further than any President in history and may yet pull it off…

      So is he a radical who who has enacted too much or is a complete failure who has enacted nothing?

      • Joe, I didn’t say he hasn’t done anything. I’m saying what he has done A. Has not registered with the American people or B. Has done things they don’t really care much about or C. Has done things things that they really didn’t want. My point was that Dems have offered solutions and done things. Whether they were a success or not — well, I don’t really think most of them can be counted as such.

        I don’t want the banks bailed out, nor do I want the auto companies bailed out. Why do liberals scream about Wall Street getting bailed out but not scream about Detroit’s bailouts? I hate both.

        The first three things you cite I think Bush or whoever would have done. As far as many of the others, there is vast disagreement whether some of them are accomplishments or boners. We’ll see.

      • Like I said before, if more troops start to go home and more parents start to go to work, BO’s legislative accomplisments and speeches will be judged closer to FDR’s. But without peace and prosperity, BO’s accomplishments and speeches will be judged closer to Carter. In politics as in war, to the winner go the spoils, and a big part of the spoils is news media and histoirical conventional wisdom.

        You don’t get credit in politics for “bending the curve,” or reducing a negative trend that would have been even worse absent action. You only get credit for reversing curves, or making negative trends into demonstrably positive trends. That’s why the odds of Obama being judged a success by the mid-terms are crappy. Even if he does reverse the curve, it takes several months before public opinion catches up to reality.

      • I agree with your last post. It takes months for people to change their views. But again, I don’t think many Americans are happy with the direction of the country. Say the economy improves sooner rather than later, which in a basically free, flexibile economy, it will do……I wonder if Obama’s other policies will suddenly become popular. Again, time will tell. We can speculate all we want.

      • Just to throw in here … Joe’s list is complemented by Norm Ornstein’s of yesterday comparing Obama and this much ridiculed Congress with FDR … for chrissake. The difference, as I’m trying to point out, is the mass communication culture in this country today and what it seizes on as a “narrative”. One sad aspect of a highly-commercialized/highly-leveraged form of journalism is that it is safer to follow conflict than accomplishment. The latter risks tempting accusations that you’re a pawn of whomever you’re crediting for achievement, while the former (conflict) presents you as a savvy bullshit detector, relentlessly skeptical and believing nothing.

  6. [...] Lambert on the give and take (and why that won’t ever happen again) [...]

  7. Here’s an interesting perspective: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2010/02/01/more-bad-news-for-the-media/

    I’m not sure I agree with the writer’s sentiment that the political is opposition is simply better at questioning the president, but for one reason or another, this Obama-and-Republicans exchange was way, way more interesting and enlightening than your average White House news conference.

    • Waaay more. And let’s not forget that where Blair used to enjoy making his conservative interrogators look like buffoons and ponces with a jabbing one-liner, Obama could not have been more civil and “out-reachy”.

  8. Alex Koppelman at salon.com’s War Room blog makes an interesting comparison between Obama’s performance and actor Michael Douglas’s performance as the President in the movie The American President.

    Obama: “That’s why I say if we’re going to frame these debates in ways that allow us to solve them, then we can’t start off by figuring out, A, who’s to blame; B, how can we make the American people afraid of the other side.”

    Douglas: “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.”

    • Oh what a bunch of horseshit. This is coming from the same guy who has blamed Bush for everything under the sun. I would say that Obama and Rumson have that in common. It’s why people like me are sick of listening to him.

      I don’t care who made what mistakes. There is plenty of blame to go around, and I hold Bush responsible for a number of things, but get a (bleeping) grip and stop blaming the past administration. People didn’t hire you to listen to that.

      • Sure they do. Reagan blamed Carter for 6 years for the situation he inherited.

      • And FDR blamed Hoover for even longer than 6 years.

      • What the people did “hire” Obama for was to stop bullshitting them and talk to them like adults. This, I believe, requires several things. 1 – A realistic, accurate picture of how we got into this crisis. 2 – A real world timeline for digging our way out (not quick, certainly not 10 months). 3 – The amount of cooperation required, (as in quite a bit, not absolutely none at all).

      • No, Reagan did not. He did the first year and his advisors told him he sounded like a cry baby and people would get sick of the blame. He stopped, and viola, things did get better.

        He hardly had to blame Carter because within a couple of years, the economy took off. Of course total debt to GDP wasn’t were Obama is going to put it.

      • Mike: you are mistaken about Reagan.

        Reagan was blaming Carter all thru the 1982 elections (and, of course, he got trounced in the midterms, because the economy was so bad).

        And, all he did leading up to and thru the 1984 election (which featured Carter’s VP as the opponent) was to continue to run against Carter.

        Reagan didn’t stop blaming Carter until he became a lame duck and had no more elections in him.

      • PM:

        No, I agree, but he didn’t blame Carter for nearly as long as you claim. He didn’t need to. The economy was chugging and humming long before he became a lame duck president. I think you are confusing him with Carter, who blamed everyone for everything from the day he left office because he was such a crappy president. He hasn’t shut his mouth to this day.

      • PM:

        Besides, Mondale was a representative of the Carter Administration. Running against someone’s record is totally different from Obama blaming an administration that is gone. If Cheney runs against Obama, then fair game.

        Actually, it’s fair game if he wants to continue to bash Bush because all is fair in politics, but it isn’t going to help his poll numbers or chances.

  9. Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams will undergo heart surgery later this week in the United States.

    Mr. Williams, 59, has said nothing of his health in the media. Deputy premier Kathy Dunderdale confirmed the treatment at a news conference Tuesday, but would not reveal the location of the operation or how it would be paid for.

    Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2510700#ixzz0eOJec66g

    NEWT: Single-payer is a great system … until you get sick.

  10. At the fees they can charge for their expertise it’s no secret that the world’s best cardiologists prefer working in the United States. The point, Newt, is YOU trying getting that guy when YOUR ticker skips a beat.

    • But Brian – you’re suggesting that the profit incentive yields the best result. Are you aware of what you just said? (You will be pilloried by the collectivists here!)

      • I still have health insurance. My coverage used to be better and the premiums were lower. I now have to pay 60% of the cost of any procedure if I go “out of network”, how is this not limiting my “choice” of doctor, how is this not a “bureaucrat” making healthcare decisions for me?
        My insurance used to pay for one well-care visit a year, now it pays 80% of one well care visit every 3 years, and I am still paying a co-pay. I also still have to wait like 5 months for an appointment.
        This is “good” insurance. My doctor has to negotiate with the insurance company and accept their terms and payments. How is this worse than the Canadian system? Did I mention my premiums have doubled in the last 5 years?

  11. Medicare and Social Security are not considered discretionary spending, so they aren’t included in the “freeze” package.
    Joe, you forgot allowing US funded agencies to discuss family planning with women in third world countries without fear of losing their funding.
    It should absolutely be law that the president should , from time to time, answer questions from congress in public and have it be televised, so we all know how invested our President is in the issues, and that he or she really has a grasp of what’s actually going on.
    Pres. Obama is definately one of the grown-ups.

    • I want a president who is in the dark and sticks to his duties of the office — which really don’t amount to much. The last thing I want is one guy making important decisions for 300 million people. We weren’t set up for that.

      As far as a grownup, I can think of adjectives to describe Obama, aloof, detached, unemotional, robotic. I don’t really see the grownup, but that’s me.

  12. [...] “We Shouldn’t Have Allowed” the Cameras In. [...]

  13. [...] A small army of political pundits, Web geeks and others from the left, right, center, top, bottom and other corners of the political universe joined forces to demand “question time.” They want for the United States a public, televised and Web-streamed version of the U.K.’s Prime Minister’s Questions. They want more of what we recently saw in Baltimore. [...]

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