Bill O’Reilly’s interview with Barack Obama before the Super Bowl proved as unstimulating as the game. O’Reilly had hyped the interview as the equivalent of a momentous boxing match. With characteristic humility, he said it would be like when “two boxers go into the center of the ring, that is exactly the way it is when an alpha interviews an alpha.”
The most interesting question came not from O’Reilly but from a viewer, who wanted to know: “Mr. President, why do you feel it’s necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?” Obama rejected the premise of the question, saying, “I don't think we have to fundamentally transform the nation.” That glib denial of the record — he promised fundamental transformation in 2008 — characterized most of the interview. Then again, perhaps he meant that now that he has fundamentally transformed the country with Obamacare and his other measures he is content with America.
One might have thought, given his sagging poll numbers, that Obama decided to appear on Fox to mollify middle Americans. But it appears that he viewed the occasion as one more opportunity to excite his base by jousting with a reviled Fox host.
He dismissed some of the most serious scandals of his administration as mere “mistakes” — scandals that have cost diplomats their lives and Americans their freedoms. Oddly, O’Reilly informed Obama, after all this dishonest spinning and stonewalling, that “I think your heart is in the right place.”
The Tea Party groups targeted by his IRS would disagree. Obama’s tone on that scandal has changed considerably. Last May, he described the IRS’s conduct as “inexcusable” and said that “Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it.” In his interview with O’Reilly, he passed the scandal off as good-faith confusion in the application of a vague law, with a few “bone-headed mistakes” made but “not a smidgeon of corruption” in the affair. Those liberal Democrats who applauded the IRS for persecuting the Tea Party should feel vindicated by the president’s change of tone. So much for the IRS’s own description of the agents as “rogue.”
Obama feels confident that he can identify extremists at home, but identifying extremists abroad is a trickier matter for him. He is still not sure about the composition of the group of Libyans who killed his ambassador. He insisted on some sort of distinction between “terrorists” and “troublemakers” to explain his administration’s attribution of the attack to spontaneous demonstrators.
“What happens is you have an attack like this taking place and you have a mix of folks who are just troublemakers. You have folks who have an ideological agenda,” he said. Just troublemakers? That’s a strange formulation. The president didn’t explain how these spur-of-the-moment troublemakers managed to map out the consulate grounds so quickly and just happened to have heavy weapons in their garages.
(For Hillary Clinton, tragedy plus time equals what she considers comedy. She put out a Super Bowl tweet indicating that she thinks it is acceptable to joke about Benghazi-related criticism now: “It’s so much more fun to watch FOX when it’s someone else being blitzed & sacked!”)
O’Reilly also asked Obama about Obamacare’s meltdown. The president treated this one, like the IRS and Benghazi scandals, as another harmless learning experience. “I don't think anybody anticipated the degree of problems that you had on HealthCare.gov.,” he said. “The good news is that right away, we decided how are we going to fix it, it got fixed within a month and a half, it was up and running and now it's working the way it's supposed to and we've signed up three million people.”
To his credit, O’Reilly pointed out what “working the way it’s supposed to” now means. He noted “an Associated Press call of people who actually went to the Web site and only 8 percent of them feel that it's working well.” Obama just disregarded that inconvenient piece of information and glibly continued.
Obama’s comments about the direction of the country under his policies sounded about as convincing as his analysis at the end of the interview on the upcoming game. He couldn’t predict a winner, but he was sure it would be close, as “these guys are too evenly matched.”