‘I’m Being Honest Now’

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on September 9, 2014

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

‘I’m Being Honest Now’
“[Barack] Obama had always had a high estimation of his ability to cast and run his operation,” the New York Times’s Jodi Kantor wrote in her 2012 book, “The Obamas” (quoted here by National Review’s Jim Geraghty). “I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it,” then-Sen. Obama told job interviewee David Plouffe in 2006. “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” he told another job candidate, Patrick Gaspard. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director”–namely Patrick Gaspard.

In the 68th month of his presidency, Obama says he has found something he’s not good at. “Part of this job is . . . the theater of it,” he told Chuck Todd, the new host of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Well, it’s not something that always comes naturally to me. But it matters. And I’m mindful of that.”

The comment was part of the president’s answer to the following question from Todd: “I’ve got to ask, so during that vacation, you made the statement on [James] Foley”–the American journalist who’d just been beheaded by ISIS–“you went and golfed. Do you want that back?” (Meaning: Do you regret it?)


President Obama golfing on Martha’s Vineyard right after his speech about ISIS and beheaded American photojournalist James Foley.

After complaining about being “followed everywhere” and wishing for a “vacation from the press,” Obama meandered toward an affirmative answer: “Because the possibility of a jarring contrast given the world’s news, there’s always going to be some tough news somewhere, it’s going to be there. But there’s no doubt that after having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through after the statement that I made, that I should’ve anticipated the optics.”

It was a strangely if characteristically detached statement. “Optics” is political-class jargon; as a reader once wrote the late William Safire: “Anytime I hear this word used in any context outside of graphic arts, my eye doctor’s office or the field of astronomy, my B.S. detector goes into high alert.” Translated into ordinary idiomatic English, “I should’ve anticipated the optics” means, roughly: “I should’ve known it would look bad.”

When George W. Bush revealed–4½ years after the fact–that he’d given up golfing for similar reasons, he was considerably more straightforward about it. “I remember when [Sergio Vieira] de Mello, who was at the U.N., got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man’s life,” he told Politico in 2008. “I was playing golf–I think I was in central Texas–and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, ‘It’s just not worth it anymore to do.’ “

The tendency to speak the cynical language of the political consultant pervades the Obama administration. A striking example appeared over the weekend in the New York Times, which reported that “Obama will delay taking executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections, bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats who feared that acting now could doom his party’s chances this fall, White House officials said on Saturday”:

“Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” a White House official said. “Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.” . . . Administration officials insist that Mr. Obama is more determined than ever to take action–eventually. But the president and his top aides have concluded that an immigration announcement before November could anger conservatives across the country, possibly cripple Democratic efforts to retain control of the Senate and severely set back any hope for progress on a permanent immigration overhaul. . . . The president and his team believe that waiting until after the election season is over will allow him to unveil sweeping and sustainable changes to the immigration system that could potentially shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and provide work permits for many.

For a critical discussion of the plan’s legal, policy and political merits, we commend today’s editorial in The Wall Street Journal. For the purpose of this column, we’d like to focus on the bizarre nature of the report itself.

What the Times describes is an attempt to deceive the electorate. The president’s planned executive action is thought to be unpopular, at least among swing voters in states with competitive Senate races, so he will not undertake it until after the election, when there’s nothing those voters can do to express their disapproval.

But wait. Doesn’t such a deception require secrecy? The Times’s sources are remarkably specific about the timing of the prospective “sweeping” action, which they say will occur sometime between Nov. 5 and Dec. 31. Although they quoted anonymously, there is little reason to doubt that they speak authoritatively on the president’s behalf. In short, the information in the Times article ought to be sufficient to dissuade the voters in question from casting ballots for Democrats.

Chuck Todd asked Obama to respond to the Times story: “What do you tell the person that’s going to get deported before the election that this decision was essentially made in your hopes of saving a Democratic Senate?”

“Well, that’s not the reason,” Obama replied. Then he spoke in high-minded generalities about the importance of immigration reform. “I want to make sure we get it right,” he said. “I want to make sure, No. 1, that all the T’s are crossed.”

Todd: “Looks like politics. I mean, it looks like election-year politics.”

To which Obama responded:

 Not only do I want to make sure that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted, but here’s the other thing, Chuck, and I’m being honest now, about the politics of it. This problem with unaccompanied children that we saw a couple weeks ago, where you had from Central America a surge of kids who are showing up at the border, got a lot of attention. And a lot of Americans started thinking, “We’ve got this immigration crisis on our hands.” And what I want to do is when I take executive action, I want to make sure that it’s sustainable. I want to make sure that–

Todd interjected: “But the public’s not behind you.” Obama disputed the premise and repeated “I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country.”

But as blogress Ann Althouse points out, “the tell” was Obama’s assertion that “I’m being honest now”: “Chuck interrupted him, and he immediately responded to Chuck’s calling bullsh–. Yeah, I know it’s bullsh–, and I know you want more straightforwardness. That doesn’t mean Obama proceeds to give straightforwardness, of course.”

In contrast, the anonymous officials in the Times story were quite straightforward. They must be assuming that the news will not be widely disseminated among the voters in question–that they can place a story in the New York Times without its having much reach beyond the political class, including the immigration activists they hope to reassure. That seems an insult to the voters’ intelligence, though one cannot rule out the possibility that the assumption will nonetheless turn out to be accurate.

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