Obama's Tipoff

Few things in cinema are more satisfying than a good "tipoff." Most often it happens in suspense films. Moviemakers use it when, let's say, the murderer of the piece hides in plain sight among the entire cast.

It's the "a-ha" instant when a character -- through a fishy comment or a shift of the eyes -- reveals that he is not what he has seemed. It's the moment when we discover the unseen villain.

For many of us groundlings, this mechanism also is the way that we come to judge the actors on the stage of public life. While prepared speeches and fussed-over appearances may form our basic impressions of such people, we in the main take such things for what they are. We know that these great, meticulously prepared packages compose a mask the public performer wears.

But we desire more than this. What we crave is the small moment. Especially we want that tiny, unguarded flash. We await the instance that acts as a lie detector. We need the happenstance that speaks with authority to the truth or falsity of the public performer's mask. Is its benign sheen genuine, or does it conceal something rotten beneath?

Last week we had a bonanza in this matter. Barack Obama had something of a presidential wardrobe malfunction while addressing Fortune Magazine's "Most Powerful Women's Summit" last Tuesday. The presidential seal that adorns any lectern at which the president stands fell off and clattered to the floor.

His initial reaction was fine, if pompous. "That's all right, all of you know who I am." This is nothing new. We know Obama's a stuffed shirt. If he had stopped there, that might have been the end of it. But he didn't.

No, he went further, in a remark that has been less reported than the immediate comeback. "But I'm sure there's somebody back there that's really nervous right now. Don't you think? They're sweating bullets back there right now."                                                                                                                    

It was unseemly, the jeer of a bully. The Most Powerful Man in the WorldTM was pointing his finger at some nobody for a minor mishap that could have happened to anyone, at any time. 

The public mask slipped here. The view beneath showed something just a touch gamy -- again. It brought back in an instant many of the Obama government's most unattractive episodes.

They've become famous. Indeed, they form the bare-knuckled soundtrack of this administration. "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." "Why can't I just eat my waffle?" "I won." "Boot on the neck." "They talk about me like a dog." "So I know whose ass to kick."  
                                                                                              
And now add, "They're sweating bullets back there." 
The public reaction has been interesting.

Upon hearing the Obama anecdote, there were those who dived eagerly into the pages of I, Claudius. They seemed tempted to attribute the mishap, as did the ancient Romans with such things, to some supernatural cause and to invest it with spectral meaning.

But that's foolish. Any augury we may divine here seems restricted to reading the reaction of the human behind the lectern. And we did learn something I think. Obama's first reaction to an unexpected annoyance can be fairly normal.  
But his follow-up can be troubling, though. He invokes his station to deflect embarrassment. He sics his power on the powerless. 
Few things in cinema are more satisfying than a good "tipoff." Most often it happens in suspense films. Moviemakers use it when, let's say, the murderer of the piece hides in plain sight among the entire cast.

It's the "a-ha" instant when a character -- through a fishy comment or a shift of the eyes -- reveals that he is not what he has seemed. It's the moment when we discover the unseen villain.

For many of us groundlings, this mechanism also is the way that we come to judge the actors on the stage of public life. While prepared speeches and fussed-over appearances may form our basic impressions of such people, we in the main take such things for what they are. We know that these great, meticulously prepared packages compose a mask the public performer wears.

But we desire more than this. What we crave is the small moment. Especially we want that tiny, unguarded flash. We await the instance that acts as a lie detector. We need the happenstance that speaks with authority to the truth or falsity of the public performer's mask. Is its benign sheen genuine, or does it conceal something rotten beneath?

Last week we had a bonanza in this matter. Barack Obama had something of a presidential wardrobe malfunction while addressing Fortune Magazine's "Most Powerful Women's Summit" last Tuesday. The presidential seal that adorns any lectern at which the president stands fell off and clattered to the floor.

His initial reaction was fine, if pompous. "That's all right, all of you know who I am." This is nothing new. We know Obama's a stuffed shirt. If he had stopped there, that might have been the end of it. But he didn't.

No, he went further, in a remark that has been less reported than the immediate comeback. "But I'm sure there's somebody back there that's really nervous right now. Don't you think? They're sweating bullets back there right now."                                                                                                                    

It was unseemly, the jeer of a bully. The Most Powerful Man in the WorldTM was pointing his finger at some nobody for a minor mishap that could have happened to anyone, at any time. 

The public mask slipped here. The view beneath showed something just a touch gamy -- again. It brought back in an instant many of the Obama government's most unattractive episodes.

They've become famous. Indeed, they form the bare-knuckled soundtrack of this administration. "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." "Why can't I just eat my waffle?" "I won." "Boot on the neck." "They talk about me like a dog." "So I know whose ass to kick."  
                                                                                              
And now add, "They're sweating bullets back there." 
The public reaction has been interesting.

Upon hearing the Obama anecdote, there were those who dived eagerly into the pages of I, Claudius. They seemed tempted to attribute the mishap, as did the ancient Romans with such things, to some supernatural cause and to invest it with spectral meaning.

But that's foolish. Any augury we may divine here seems restricted to reading the reaction of the human behind the lectern. And we did learn something I think. Obama's first reaction to an unexpected annoyance can be fairly normal.  
But his follow-up can be troubling, though. He invokes his station to deflect embarrassment. He sics his power on the powerless. 

RECENT VIDEOS