Smile Politely

Time for the Obama Show

If you took a creative writing course in college, you’re probably familiar with the edict: Show, don’t tell. The basic idea is this: It’s more effective to show that your main character is passionate than it is to tell your reader, “He felt very passionate.” You’ll have a bigger impact if you show a character acting angrily than you will if you tell us that, geez, she sure was upset. At its root, it’s a maxim that most of us have been hearing since we were still tottering around the house in our Sesame Street PJs: Actions speak louder than words.

This week, as we near the end of a bitter and oftentimes absurd U.S. political season, we’re seeing these ideas rise to the surface — the welcomed sight of wheat separating itself from the chaff. Show, don’t tell. Actions, not words.

Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, stood firm earlier this week when a Fox News reporter tried to cajole him into playing politics with the now-known-as Superstorm Sandy: “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” Christie said, responding to a question about Romney receiving an invitation to tour the state’s devastation. “I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics and I could[n’t] care less about any of that stuff.”

This is all show (in the best way possible, that is). There’s really no need to point out: Christie is committed to being governor of the state. His actions in the days after the storm demonstrate as much.

Christie endorsed President Barack Obama’s handling of the natural disaster, too, saying that the president “has done a good job in the last few days for New Jersey, and he deserves my praise, and he will get it regardless of what the calendar says.” (He has reiterated this sentiment in subsequent press conferences.)

To be clear, Christie’s impression of the president’s handling of the situation has nothing to do with anything that Obama told him, or told reporters, or told breath-holding millions on debate night. The president never stepped forward to announce: “American people, I am, at this very moment, about to act presidential in regards to this superstorm.”

No, instead what he did was take a break from dodging political jabs and warding off the winds of Romney’s flipflops — a tiresome scene that’s overtaken the campaign theatre, to the fault of Obama’s acquiescence as much as Romney’s conniving — in order to, for the first time in several months, act like the president that he’s for so long shown himself capable of being.

He did, after all, remove us from our long and costly wars — and by 2014, the wars (and their mammoth costs) will become part of history. And along the way, he personally oversaw the assassinations of some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

He did, after all, in keeping with some of the most virtuous principles of “helping thy neighbor” held by religions throughout America, bring health care to all Americans.

He did, after all, pursue a wide range of options for energy independence and longevity in America. As a result, under his watch, domestic oil production is sharply on the rise and of the 63 “green energy” initiatives his administration provided significant funding for, 92 percent are still actively building the energy infrastructure that our children and grandchildren will rely on.

He did, after all, walk into an economy that collapsed colossally before he’d even arranged his family photographs on his West Wing desk. Since then, he’s pulled the American economy back from a potential catastrophe that economists of every stripe had warned could be worse than the Great Depression. As a result, America’s critical auto industry is thriving once again. The American economy is not only seeing positive growth on really all fronts (this morning’s job numbers, coming in at almost 40,000 higher than the most optimistic projections, stand in evidence, as do continued leaps in consumer spending and auto purchases), but it no longer sits on fragile stilts that could give way when greed is granted free rein to play roulette with the interests of the American public (all 100 percent of it).

The problem is that, as the presidential campaign has worn on, the president has found himself — woefully, like so many political candidates these days — telling the world things. And this act of telling, too often, just amounts to hollow talking points and casting off aspersions from the opposing side — trying to cut deceits off at their knees, to undermine claims made in blatantly duplicitous ads, to refute the false sound bites offered by opposing staff members on cable news shows. It’s the trap of contemporary American politics, with all of its big-stage, multimedia dramatics. And when you end up trying to talk your way out of one corner after another, what do you show the world? Well, you show it a lot of petty squabbling that doesn’t really smack of presidential integrity.

To be fair, all sides — Romney and Obama, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, and everywhere in between — engage in rhetorical tactics that are less than noble. But in the 2012 race for the White House, Romney’s brand of campaigning — low-brow though it may be — deserves high marks for effectiveness. He has proven himself willing to say anything to score political points, including, time and time again, completely reversing his position, and the president hasn’t found the means to elevate the discussion above this baseline. And there have been plenty of opportunities:

  • Health care
  • Taxation
  • Education
  • Energy
  • The environment
  • The auto industry
  • Women’s rights
  • Gay rights
  • Immigration
  • Foreign policy
  • War

You cannot pin this Romney guy down on anything.

Well, maybe that’s not true. If you take him at his word, we can count on the fact that on Day One he’ll eliminate funding for PBS and Planned Parenthood, he’ll stir the pot with Russia and China, he’ll unnecessarily swell the military coffers well beyond anything we could possibly need, and he’ll magically generate twelve million jobs. Poof! On to Day Two…

It’s a dizzying and disorienting performance that Governor Romney has put on — and the president, rather than being able to address the issues in a presidential fashion, has too often found himself flopping around in the mud with Romney, trying (with unveiled exasperation, as we saw in the infamous Debate Number One) to respond to every flip, to tell the world why Romney doesn’t get it, why Romney isn’t playing on the level, why Romney is downright full of shit. And even if Obama is correct 99 percent of the time, this act of defense — of telling the world why the right-wing-centrist-anti-middle-class-pro-everyman-auto-industry-bankrupter-auto-industry-savior-tax-cutter-tax-increaser-withdrawal-deadline-detractor-withdrawal-deadline-supporter-China-loving-China-hating-America-loving-Caaman-Island-bank-account-loving-pro-family-anti-47-percent-of-freeloading-Americans-pro-choice-pro-life-pro-FEMA-anti-FEMA-optimize-government-but-then-deny-government-could-ever-produce-a-single-good-thing-for-the-country-morality-preaching-hate-mongering Mitt Romney isn’t really all he’s cracking himself up to be — simply doesn’t feel presidential. Is it necessary to respond to Mitt’s antics? In some ways, perhaps. But does it leave a good taste in our mouths? I really hate to say this in these poll-happy days, but here goes: Check Gallup to see how it plays.

So here we are, days away from a critical election (isn’t every election, in its moment, critical?), and the president finds himself facing not only the flip-flopping winds of Romney, but also the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. For days, pundits and talking heads have wondered how showdown with nature will impact the presidential race. The answer to that question is entirely in Obama’s hands. If, even as he returns to the campaign trail, he continues to carry out his job as head of the nation — the supportive, confident, hands-dirty participation that’s earned “praise” from would-be political foes like Chris Christie — Obama may find a boon in the otherwise tragic wake of Sandy. After all, he won’t need to spend the waning hours of the campaign telling the American people why he deserves to continue as president, and why Romney is better off sitting the next four years out on the sidelines. He’ll show us.

And that’s what we’ve been waiting for.


Opinion pieces published in Smile Politely are the sole opinion of the author, and not the opinion of other writers or managing staff. Smile Politely does not guarantee the veracity of any claims made by the author.

Opinion pieces are edited for style, grammar, and syntax, but never for content.

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