Saturday, November 21, 2009

That Obama Quotation

by Richard Crews
Since someone asked me, here is my analysis of that Obama quote I sent around a few days ago.

Here's the original clip (sorry about the 15-second advertisement--I don't know how to get it out of there).

Here is my analysis.

In the clip the interviewer (performing his "of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings" role, i.e., "news" is whatever gets people to tune in to my channel) turns from genocide or some global disaster to ask, "What do you think about Sarah Palin's criticism that your administration rates a 'four' ?"

Now, Sarah Palin has proven herself to be a deliciously sexy (which is her main appeal to men), quick-spoken (which I think may be her main appeal to women), poorly informed cartoon character. Rating something as complex and important as Obama's activities "as 4 on a scale of 10" is a third-grader's "Ring around the Rosy." But the interviewer has dutifully tossed it into the air and invited Obama to take a swing at it.

There are many things Obama could have said. One common approach would be to not answer the question at all, e.g., some variant of "I'm most concerned about the situation in the Middle East." Or even, ostensibly staying relevant to the question, "Palin [or "you"] should not distract us from...." But--point one--Obama actually answers the question.

Point two--there would be so many ways to be childish or patronizing; and it's free--the media would pick it up, etc. But he doesn't choose that route.

Point three--first he laughs--warmly, lightly, spontaneously. Utterly charming.

Point four (and more--I'll stop counting)--then he makes three points; all three are true and all are said in a grown-up way. "She's out selling books right now [so stirring a little blood in the water is par for the course]" and "I think [not "I hope" or "unfortunately," etc.] she'll do well at it." But "her 'political philosophy' [I'll come back to that phrase] is very different from my own so that I don't look to her for [useful] criticism."

I think his use of the phrase "political philosophy" is fascinating and problematic. She doesn't really have a "political philosophy" any more than any third-grader does. The Republicans do--sort of--"loyal opposition" converted to irrational obstructionism; it is in fact a functional activity in the "political" (with a small "p") arena and thus deserves the title "political philosophy" (using "philosophy"--perhaps also with a small "p"--to mean "an explanatory conceptual plan"). But puppies that pad along wagging their tails behind the Republican wagon train cannot be credited with even this small-p's level of intention. So Obama is mis-speaking to credit Palin with a "political philosophy" even on this trivial level.

Or is he? No! He is, rather, saying that Palin's shenanigans are on a level with the Republicans' "political philosophy." Again, true--but also sophisticated and even subtle. It is a comment, not on her, but on the Republicans.