President Obama, your inexperience is showing once again — as is that of one of your most visible employees.
One of the most common mistakes made by inexperienced politicians is inappropriate use of humor. Take, for example, joking about the depressed economy. If you’re a two-term state senator, maybe you can be excused for joking about the economy or laughing about it. When you’re president of the United States, it’s inexcusable. Yet, Obama made that exact mistake in an interview on CBS’ "60 Minutes." Interviewer Steve Kroft called him on it:
Kroft: "You’re sitting here. And you’re — you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people going to look at this and say, ‘I mean, he’s sitting there just making jokes about money –‘ How do you deal with — I mean, wh — explain."
Obama: "Well —
Kroft: " — the mood and your laughter."
Obama: "Yeah, I mean, there’s got to be –"
Kroft: "Are you punch drunk?"
Obama: "No, no. There’s got to be a little gallows humor to get you through the day. You know, sometimes my team — talks about the fact that if — if you had said to us a year ago that — the least of my problems would be Iraq, which is still a pretty serious problem — I don’t think anybody would have believed it. But — but we’ve got a lot on our plate. And — a lot of difficult decisions that we’re going to have to make."
And therefore, having a lot on one’s plate excuses that person from laughing about people being out of work? If you’re busy, it’s OK to joke about the economy being in a freefall and the ineffectiveness of the president’s stimulus package thus far? I don’t think so.
Inappropriate laughter is not the only mistake the president made during the "60 Minutes" interview. He also hyperbolized, yet again, about the recession. He said he believes the United States could undergo a further implosion of the financial system if Citigroup or AIG have more problems, which in turn could launch, "an even more destructive recession and potentially depression."
Such talk from the leader of the free world is immature if not downright inexcusable. Hasn’t he learned by now that his words have more impact since he took over the White House? A U.S. president’s words move markets up and down, with even more impact than those of the Federal Reserve chairman. A seasoned politician chooses words cautiously, recognizing their impact. For a guy who "gets" it, Obama doesn’t "get" that part of being president yet.
While he’s at it, he ought to tell his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, to loosen up a bit. At a White House briefing this week a CNN White House correspondent asked why the release of the so-called Geithner plan to free up the chokehold on lending that’s frozen the banking system, was done below the radar. This prickly response came from an obviously frustrated Gibbs:
"I guess he’s worried a little bit less about what the packaging is on the present, and more importantly, what’s inside of the box. I suppose we could have rigged out some flags and printed up some placards and cued up some old campaign music, but I think what’s important — maybe not for Washington reporters, but what’s more important for the American people is to get the details of a plan that works to get their bank lending money again."
I watched Gibbs deliver this not so subtle sermon and he seemed angry enough to bite off the reporter’s head. And the bit about "maybe not for Washington reporters" was so full of bull it almost exploded off the TV screen. To accuse someone else of being too Washington-oriented when you’re speaking for the president is the height of absurdity. There is no more inside-the-beltway crowd than the occupants of the White House and the west wing, of which Gibbs is certainly one.
So Obama, please recognize the importance of your words. And Gibbs, please understand you are a completely replaceable cog in the White House machinery and nothing more.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)