In what has become an annual tradition, President Obama went on a shopping jaunt this weekend in support of Small Business Saturday, with the press pool in tow. The President was accompanied by daughters Malia and Sasha Obama, as they shopped at Washington's Politics and Prose bookstore. As the First Family checked out, the pool cameras caught some telling banter from the President and Malia. The President spied copies of Chuck Todd's new book "The Stranger: barack Obama in the White House" behind the counter, and said "“Oh, Chuck Todd! Let’s see what Chuck has to say here!”
An amused yet unamused Malia said "How is he writing a book already?"
Then, they discussed the solitary-looking photo on the book's cover:
Obama "Look, he's lonely.
Obama: "Looking alienated...oh my. He's so sad."
Malia: "It's just, like, a sad photo."
Cashier: "They tried to find the saddest photo they could"
The exchange was a bit of a glimpse into how the President and his kids deal with the often-critical narratives that are the lifeblood of the Beltway media. Todd's tome (which I haven't read yet) is known as a rather intensely negative portrayal of Obama's presidency, so much so that The New York Times' book reviewer noted that "If the president reads Mr. Todd’s new book 'The Stranger,' it’s hard to imagine him wanting to return to the (Todd-hosted Meet The Press) program anytime soon."
Speaking of which, though, the President's checkout counter chitchat would seem to indicate that he hasn't read Todd's book yet, and apparently won't be reading it anytime soon. The White House released the list of books the Obamas bought, and there was no impulse purchase ofThe Stranger in the lot (via email from The White House):
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End - Atul Gawande
Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business (Junie B. Jones Series #2) - Barbara Park
A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More - Doreen Cronin
I Spy Sticker Book and Picture Riddles by Jean MarzolloNuts to You - Lynn Rae Perkins
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus (Junie B. Jones Series #1) - Barbara Park
Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson
Redwall (Redwall Series #1) - Brian Jacques
Mossflower (Redwall Series #2) - Brian Jacques
Mattimeo - Brian Jacques (Redwall Series #3)
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms - Katherine Rundell
The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan
The Laughing Monsters - Denis Johnson
All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Nora Webster - Colm Toibin
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China - Evan Osnos
Much of the criticism in Todd's book mirrors the Beltway knock on Obama that he hasn't developed the relationships and finesse necessary to get things done, and is devoted to the Beltwa.y fetish for the Both Sides narrative, as exemplified by this summation from The Stranger:
“If a huge reason for the failure of Washington to get anything done is a focus on means instead of productive ends, Obama’s struggles came from his focus on ends to the exclusion of productive means.”
As if in retort, though, this holiday weekend offered another shining example of the imbalance that exists in that formulation. On Wednesday, the President and his daughters held a ceremony to pardon the national turkeys, and the girls played the embarrassed teenagers to Obama's goofy dad. That prompted a GOP congressional staffer to blast the girls, as well as their parents, on Facebook:
Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.
That since-deleted post wasn't from some wingnut rando, it was written by Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for a U.S. Congressman, Stephen Fincher (R-TN). The fact that she attacked the girls it getting a lot of deserved attention, but Lauten's since-deleted apology is even more telling of the sort of opposition Obama has faced all these years:
"I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were," she wrote. "Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no pace in my heart. Furthermore, I'd like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience."
So, even in apologizing for her batshit attack on these two teenage girls, Lauten lets this stand:
"Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department."
Forget, for a moment, what effect this sort of thing (which began the night he was inaugurated) may have had on whether or not the President wanted to form relationships and work with these people, and ask yourself whether any amount of schmoozing and boozing could ever have broken through such intensely personal and bitter vitriol.
The President may be alone on Chuck Todd's book cover, but he's got the people who matter with him in real life, and in attacking his daughters, Republicans continue to show why Barack Obama has had to go his own way in Washington.