Now in the final straight, Obama is saying as he sees it
His supporters are thrilled to see the Barack Obama they voted for is back
President Barack Obama: far more energised than a couple years ago when he acted as though he would like to quit, if it was a job you could stride away from. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters
In the midst of Iran mania, the president got tossed a question about Bill Cosby. Would he revoke the presidential Medal of Freedom given to a comedian who has been accused of subverting the free will of dozens of women, and counting? It was a riveting moment.
It has been said that Cliff Huxtable was instrumental in paving the way for Barack Obama. Until the nation began watching the sterling Obamas, the sterling Huxtables were the most celebrated positive image of a wholesome, engaging, upper-middle-class black family.
The president may have flashed back to another White House news conference in 2009 when he forthrightly – and correctly – accused the police of acting “stupidly” in arresting his friend Skip Gates on suspicion of breaking into his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The backlash from the police led to Obama suffering through the inane “beer summit”.
So, when April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks asked about Cosby, Obama’s lawyerly side kicked in first. He punted, saying he did not comment on cases that could be litigated. Then he looked down, pressed his lips together and unleashed a well-deserved hell on Cosby. Because in the sunset of his presidency, Obama’s bolder side is rising. He’s a lame duck who doesn’t give a damn.
“If you give a woman – or a man, for that matter – without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape,” he said. The father of two daughters reflected genuine disgust.
With Cosby, the Charleston, South Carolina, eulogy with the rendition of Amazing Grace and the visit with felons in federal prison in Oklahoma to speak up for that unloved constituency, and say “there but for the grace of God”, the president who once tread gingerly on race has discovered a more gingery voice. And the chorus in the land finally proclaims: “That’s the man I voted for.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to tell colleagues that one is only president from the inauguration to the first mid-term, but Obama is rewriting the book on Oval Office juice. He has talked wistfully in private for years about “going Bulworth” and emulating Warren Beatty’s hilariously blunt senator in that movie. Now he’s doing it.
“This is the guy I know,” David Axelrod, Obama’s former chief political adviser, told me. “He’s focused on big things, speaking hard truths and damning small politics, and that is why so many of us were attracted to him from the start.”
When CBS’s Major Garrett grandstanded in the White House news conference, asking the president why he was content “to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for in relation” to the Americans stuck in prison in Iran, Obama gave Garrett the back of his hand. “Major,” he shot back, “that’s nonsense and you should know better.” Time to dismiss the Anger Translator.
The president is far more energised than a couple years ago, when – thwarted by intransigent Republicans and the intractable Middle East – he acted as though he would like to quit, if it was a job you could stride away from.
He clearly enjoys settling into his favourite role – the man alone in the arena, disdaining the flattering rituals and back-scratching of politics, the dreaded drinks with Senator Mitch McConnell and stupid golf with Speaker John Boehner.
“Eight months ago, he was left for dead after the mid-term elections,” Axelrod said, “but he saw it as a liberating moment, the starting buzzer on the final quarter. And he is working down his list of things undone and knocking them out one after another. For those of us who were there at the start, it’s thrilling to see.”
Aside from McConnell, the happiest person last November when McConnell won was Obama because he was freed from having to humour Harry Reid and Hill Democrats.
He passed the trade bill with help from Republicans who spent years trying to hurt him and he is now teaming with the Koch brothers, who have spent a fortune trying to kill his agenda, for a criminal justice overhaul. He brushed away the contentious politics on Cuba, the Confederate flag and Iran and said it was long past time to move on.
A few years ago, he privately fretted that he was no longer lucky, but he got lucky with the supreme court on healthcare and gay marriage.
He wrote in his memoir that from the time he was young, he learned the trick of not seeming angry so he wouldn’t alarm white folks. Now though, he seems eager to mix it up as he goes through his rhymes-with-bucket list.
Obama has always radiated the smug air that he was right and any other positions were illogical – but it is gratifying when aimed at the obnoxious Republicans and more obnoxious Bibi. Republicans were never going to go for the Iran deal. Their apocalyptic statements were written well in advance and they just had to hit “Send” followed by a fundraising appeal to Jewish donors.
Obama is gambling that he won’t hurt his party and that in 10 years, Iran will be a better member of the international community. But he can’t do worse as an oracle of the Middle East than the conservative warmongers who ravaged the region. – (New York Times service)