Once touted as Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama reverted this week to his previous rank of Chief Petty Officer. No President has achieved greater rankness in the petty than this man.
His latest sortie in this arena involved the scheduling of a major address to a joint session of Congress on September 7 to coincide with the next debate between Republican candidates for his job. This would have the effect of turning the debate into a self-caricaturizing sideshow, making its participants look small and irrelevant while all the nation's statesmen were engaged elsewhere in grappling with the great issues of the day.
John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, made history by refusing the President his night in the moon. He sent a nice letter via special delivery to Pennsylvania Avenue, allowing as how "parliamentary and logistical" (PAL for short, as in "Look, PAL, this ain't happenin') impediments would make September 8 look like the better slot. Boehner demonstrated his flexibility by saying that any hour that night would be fine, at the President's convenience.
How shocking is it for a sitting President to pull a bush-league prank like upstaging the opposing-party debate for a speech which can be delivered most any old night? Well, over the past thirty years, since the Watergate scandal, pranks have become tainted in the American political realm. For those who missed them, the good news is that Obama has brought them back in force.
Apparently he feels that if he is to succeed at being the modern-day Robin Hood, taking from the less-poor to give to the less-rich, he must be backed by a band of Merry Men.
Before the Nixon days, pranks were a time-dishonored feature of the political game. Both sides in campaigns invested a lot of their creativity in sabotaging the other team's scheduling and organizing, sending ambulances to each other's headquarters and similarly immature behavior. In one famous incident, Richard Nixon gave a campaign speech in San Francisco's Chinatown and crafty Democrats hung a huge sign in Chinese characters on the building which served as his backdrop.
Nixon's people figured it was a local welcome and did not dare to take it down. Nixon delivered his address in good spirits while the crowd chuckled at the banner announcing that this man is a crook and you should not believe a word he says. All of this Spy-vs.-Spy hijinks was greeted with a boys-will-be-boys chuckle. But after the Watergate burglary of Democrat headquarters, the nation recoiled, and the pranks were renamed "dirty tricks" and shunned into the historical corner wearing a dunce cap.
No more. Now our President is proud to add a new element to his job description: Prankster-in-Chief.
Looking back at Obama's performance as both a candidate and a President, the love of the prank has predominated. Prank in the sense of trickery in using words to mislead and in using deeds to upstage or embarrass.
This is the man who was challenged about his friendship with domestic terrorist William Ayers and responded: "I was eight years old when he did those things." Yeah, he was the same age when Martin Luther King was assassinated but he was not buddying up to James Earl Ray.
When challenged about attending the racist church of Jeremiah Wright, he stymied everyone by announcing that his white grandmother was a racist.
He walked into the Oval Office as President and his first act was to send the bust of Winston Churchill back to the British embassy.
He went to England and gave the Queen an I-Pod with old American movies and his speeches.
He invited Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House, then he left him flat-footed in the middle of their meeting and went off to eat supper.
He invited the Dalai Lama to the White House, then sent him home out the back door past a giant pile of black kitchen garbage bags.
To score points in the health-care debate, he staged an event with doctors wearing white coats and he accused surgeons of performing unnecessary appendectomies to make money.
He proposed reducing the tax deduction on charitable contributions to 28 cents on the dollar and explained that this would be the same rate as under Ronald Reagan (when the tax rate was 28 cents on the dollar instead of 38 as it is now).
To force bondholders of General Motors to forfeit their money, he made a public speech calling them speculators trying to get rich off the plight of the unemployed.
After Congressman Ryan of Wisconsin published a plan to fix the deficit, the President invited him to sit in the front row of his next speech, then used the occasion to humiliate him with partisan rhetoric.
He invited Netanyahu to the White House again, then used a speech the day before to weaken Israel's negotiating position.
The list goes on and on, and I suspect the commenters below this article will add many more instances of his pettiness and pettifoggery. I suppose the last word must go to the Bard in Coriolanus, Act III Scene 1, who means it a little differently, but still….
Behold, these are the tribunes of the people,
The tongues o' the common mouth. I do despise them;
For they do prank them in authority,
Against all noble sufferance.
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