Message: I swear
--President Obama, to Matt Lauer
After-Action Report: POTUS on “Today” Show, 6/8/10
From: WH Communications
To: Undisclosed Recipients
The president’s appearance on the “Today” show—teased Monday p.m., aired Tuesday a.m.—provided an effective platform to push back on Gulf-spill criticism directed at administration, and at POTUS specifically for “detached” management style.
Clear highlight of interview—per gut feeling, press coverage, volume of early web hits—was POTUS response to Matt Lauer suggestion that, rather than meeting with “experts,” it was time for POTUS to “kick some butt.”
Substance of POTUS reply took on contention that POTUS prefers “academic”/“ivory tower” approach—made clear he meets with “regular” people, too, but that experts provide additional insight re possible solutions. Also help assess failures, determine accountability. (Fact-free wing of commentariat/GOP won’t be satisfied—continue to use “professor,” “seminar,” “Harvard Square,” etc., as insults—but potential appeal to moderates/independents.)
More significant: Tone of POTUS reply. POTUS met Lauer’s bid re “kick some butt,” and raised rhetorical stakes from “butt” to “ass.” (Staff checking for previous public references to “ass,” this or previous presidents. Will supply.) Folded sharp language—“so I know whose ass to kick”—into defense of measured approach to crisis. Initial focus-group reaction was positive, phone polling still to come.
Additional POTUS comment—“This is not theater”—tested even more strongly positive. Unclear whether respondents share POTUS disdain for political “optics,” or simply hate Broadway. May require further interviews.
One note of caution: Mixed response to POTUS comment “I don’t always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows.” Follow-up polling necessary. Possible explanations:
--Concern re overloaded POTUS schedule;
--Belief that POTUS performances are part of basic cable package.
Overall: Viewed in context of current voter anger and growing anti-incumbent sentiment, linguistically aggressive approach may have significant upside, this year and for 2012. Expect assault from family-values crowd—salty presidential language “sets terrible example for our youth,” etc. (Will Limbaugh take break from fourth honeymoon to lead attack?) Bigger danger: Dismissal by network anchors/talking heads as overreactive, contrived. (e.g. “‘Message: I swear.’”)
Also need to avoid public expectation of frequent similar outbursts—Epithet of the Week, etc.—with inevitable pressure to ratchet up rhetoric. Feisty POTUS best deployed for now on selective basis, as circumstances and public mood dictate. (“Waste of My Time” news conference? “State of the Sucky Union” address?)
Recommendation: Cursing in service of reason and restraint a difficult line to walk, but early numbers suggest definitely worth the effort. Will require highly nuanced approach, ability to “read the room,” think on his feet. Fortunately, POTUS well equipped to take on this assignment.
As opposed to, say, VPOTUS.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.