Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Meaning of Smiles

On the faces of those who listened there were miles of smiles!
by Charlie Leck

The President gave one helluva campaign speech last night. I thought it about several times through the night and now, again, this morning, trying to explain what I and millions of others saw last night. There he was, on the stump again! The party is in big trouble, as evidenced by the nasty defeat it took in Massachusetts about 10 days ago. In November other Dems are going to get shot down and the President is clearly worried about it.

The man is flat-out a great speech maker. Though no Abe Lincoln, by any means, he’s still pretty danged good. I think the Republicans even enjoyed the performance last night and the President got more of them to stand and applaud occasionally than would normally do so. Everybody likes him – even the Republicans.

My favorite blogger, Stanley Fish, recreates the scene perfectly:

"He had us before he said hello. It was, in part, the look. Blue suit, but not the usual blue -- subtler; red rep tie, white shirt, a skin color cosmetics and sun could never deliver, and, for much of the time, a big smile. It was the rock-star look in full Technicolor. Everyone else seemed to be black and white. He dominated the screen and he did it with an ease that stopped just short of entitlement, an ease that said, in Chevy Chase fashion, "I'm the President and you're not."

"Then there was the speech, soaring at the beginning and at the end, but in the middle a litany of specifics of the kind he did not offer in the long campaign of 2007-2008." [Click here if you want to read Fish's blog!]
What a smile the man has! Don’t you think so? I don’t think anyone in a major national office has ever had a smile that could top it – not even Jimmy Carter or Bobby Kennedy!

And, did you see the smiles all around him? That's want I fixed on last night as the President spoke – or, perhaps, that’s what I was fixated on! Right there, behind the President, were two of the whitest, widest smiles you’ll ever see. Vice President Joe Biden has either had a mouthful of teeth replaced by snow-white, brand new ones or he’s had Hollywood whitening treatments on those choppers of his. He was gleaming and never stopped smiling. I think it was, however, kind of like whistling past the graveyard. You keep on smiling and maybe you won’t start crying. On the other side of the President the cameras kept picking up House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s gargantuan grin, but there were tears in her eyes and I don’t think it was from laughing too hard.

The television cameras scanned the audience picking out the great big smiles. There was Mitch McConnell, Mr. Republican and one of the leaders of the enemies, with a big wide, toothy grin on his face. And the Secretary of the Treasury, Timmy Geitner, spread a big, broad, wide one on his own face when the President pointed out now, for the 11th hundred time, that this financial crisis was not of his making but that of the administration in the 8 previous years to him taking office. That remark even brought a smile to the face of John McCain, who better understands the rules of big time politics than the President does; that is, “You won the election big fella, and now you own the economy, stupid!”

The only person in the joint who had a hard time pasting on a sincere and cheery smile was the President’s wife. She looked nervous and even a bit angry, like, you know: “Why is everybody always picking on him?”

I don’t know what all that smiling meant. I’ve been trying to figure it out. There were times when the cameras would pan to the President’s left – that’s the right side of the Chamber, where the Republicans sit – and there would be those big broad smiles of hungry and expectant Republicans who just can’t wait to eat the President’s lunch in the coming November elections. Maybe that’s what they were smiling about -- lunch!

“Getter’ done!” The President commanded the Congresspeople and Senators. “Getter’ done!”

The Democrats hooted and hollered and applauded. The Republicans smiled widely for the cameras, but sat on their hands.

The President described the courage and fortitude of the American people. Then he pleaded for “a government that matches their decency – that embodies their strength.” The audience applauded. The Democrats stood and clapped with vigor. The Republicans remained seated and softly, politely put their hands together a few times. The Republican leaders of the House and Senate smiled up at the resident of the White House. They were odd smiles! What did they mean, anyhow?

Barack H. Obama looked out at these folks who had been elected to represent the folks back home and told them there is “a deficit of trust!”

“Yes, yes,” they nodded and politely applauded, with smiles upon their faces. What did those expressions mean?

The Republicans saved their biggest smiles for the President’s reminder that he had promised the American people a big change in the way things are done in Washington. He explained immediately, I guess, when he saw the size of those Republican smiles, that he didn’t mean that he alone would bring about change, but that all of them, together, would have to be the agents of change.

Gee, golly! You can bet the opposition party bought immediately into that line. I knew what their smiles meant at that moment: “We’ll give you change, Pal – in November we’ll give you change!”

The President had a special question for the Senators in the audience. He wanted to know when a victory in the Senate meant you had to have 60 votes. He implied that this was not playing fair! He whined a bit about it and stomped his feet! I thought about Lyndon Baines Johnson and how he must have, at that very moment, flipped over in his grave to hide his embarrassment.

“You don’t need 60 votes, Rookie,” I shouted at the TV. “Get your damned bill prepared and then vote on it. Let the stupid Republicans start their filibuster (a word I always thought should be silly-bluster), and allow the American people to see who is holding up progress – who is wasting time – who is stopping the wheels of progress. Then take it to the people and show the nation who isn’t playing fair and then see who wins in November.

This is a President who is too danged nice. He smiles way too much. He lets himself get pushed around by a bunch of weenies like Rich McConnell and that blasted woman from up in Minnesota – that snowflake, Michel Bachman – and that Orin Hatch – and those odd-balls from Wyoming and Idaho.

Old Lyndon would have given them the finger. The hell with smiling nice-nice. Remember his State of the Union speeches. He was the man in charge and they damned well better remember it. LBJ had balls and he had beans to trade and he wasn’t worried about changing Washington because he knew damned well it couldn’t be done. He didn’t smile! He shook his finger at them, like the man in charge, and told them he’d make it plain to the American people just who it was that held things up and ruined the show. And LBJ would go into their own backyards and tell on them and get their people fighting mad at them.

“You gotta’ talk their language, son!” That’s what he’d say to the fellow trying to run the country right now. “You gotta threaten ‘em and knock heads together and give ‘em what for! You ain’t gonna’ get any change out of these bastards! Challenge ‘em! Call ‘em out! Tell ‘em they’re low-down sons-of-bitches and federal money is gonna dry up in their states!”

I remember that “change” promise. I even forgot myself and got teary-eyed about it a couple of times during the campaign.

“You ain’t getting’ no change, son,” I can hear LBJ screaming from his grave, “cause you gotta’ meet these guys on their own turf and fight ‘em by their rules.”

There wasn’t a lot of polite smiling over there on the President’s left when it was LBJ giving the State of the Union message.

“We’re getting this civil rights thing passed this year, you hear? You wanna filibuster? You just go ahead and I’ll just fly right into your state while you’re doin’ it and explain to your folks out there why you’ve got no right being a U.S. Senator.”

Lyndon Johnson got his Civil Rights Bill passed! One of the most controversial bills and one of the most important pieces of legislation in history and he got it passed. You think, with a majority of his own party in both the House and Senate, that Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t get this health care thing passed when there is so much evidence that it would help both the people of the country and the country’s economic condition. It would be child’s play for LBJ. It would have been easy for FDR, too.

Did you notice that the only people not smiling last night were those members of the Supreme Court who were in attendance? Now, on them, the President got tough and took them to the wood shed and let them have it. You see? That’s what being the President is all about. You’ve got a bully-pulpit there, Mr. Obama. You’ve got to stop being so danged sweet and give them hell.
Did you see Justice Alito while the President was lecturing the Justices? Oh, my! He wasn’t smiling, I’ll tell you.

You will now “open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections," the President said, looking right down at them there in front of him.

Alito actually shook his head in rebuttal. You could see that he wanted to stand and shout, but these Justices have got to retain a certain level of decorum, you know. Alito didn’t smile, but he did try to mouth something to the President. I think it was “no, no” but I’m no lip reader.

If the Republicans don’t agree to fix the horrible decision handed down by the Supreme Court and insist on this 60 vote level to pass such a bill, our President should turn to the people and point out what the opposition party is protecting; that is, a decision that says Corporations and individual people in the United States are equal.

My goodness! It’s a slam-dunk! The American people will reject that out-of-hand and refuse to elect anyone who supports it.

We got a remarkable man who is President of the United States. That’s nice! What we need, however, is a man who will be a “remarkable President.” That we do not yet have. Perhaps he’ll figure it out. It just better be quickly or he’s going to lose a lot of votes for a lot of Democrats in November.

Nice guy politics isn’t going to get ‘er done!

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that ice cream eating grin of Joe Lieberman. Did you see that thing? If he didn't look like the cat who swallowed the canary. I'm telling you, there is just something basically wrong with that guy. He smiles like a man without a home -- or a party!


  1. I probably should have included a citation to an excellent blog by John Nichols that asks why the President still clings to his hope for bipartisanship...

  2. Charlie, I found it most unfortunate that you chose me as your representative Obama-bashing "weenie" in this blog. In fact, I believe myself to be one of the most apolitical/unpolitical people I can imagine (exceeded only by those engaged in the eternal dirt-nap).

    I appreciate that many. many Americans have given their lives to preserve our freedoms, amongst which is the right to vote in public elections (or not).

    In my case, I don't feel as if I am a part of the political process. I voted in my first election (local or national), about 15 years ago. My explanation for this late start is that I have never choosen to follow politics, and so would end up voting for the candidate that I liked the best - based on the cult of personality. This, in my view, is an uninformed, and therefore wasted vote.

    What got me voting 15 years ago, was probably the flip-side of the equation: there was a candidate whose personality I disliked so much, that I voted to keep him out of office (note: again this is a personality decision, that has absolutely nothing to do with the candidates qualifications, and for which I've expended little or no effort to learn about).

    I read your blog every day, and admire your gift for the written word, and the research you put in to what you produce. I'm also impressed with the variety of your interests, and the energy with which you pursue them. Perhaps most of all, I'm touched by the depth and constancy of your love for your wife, Anne. That truly moves me.

    Your political observations, to the contrary, are of little interest, although I try to show my respect for your literary talents by at least skimming the contents.

    Neither of us are the people we were in high school - (for which I thank my Higher Power on a very frequent basis).

    Am I someone it's worth your time to get to know better. I can't say, although I can imagine my Scots' ancestors saying: "I hae me doots"!