Friday, October 17, 2008

The temperament card: Obama played it on Fox in April

Now that everyone's latched onto Obama's temperament as a key element in his success with voters, it's worth revisiting an April interview with Chris Wallace in which Obama himself-- days after his loss in Pennsylvania -- identified his temperament as a key qualification for the presidency. At the time, that claim struck me as the focal point of the interview. The gist of that post is below.

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The interview touched on taxes, Iraq, merit pay for teachers and partial birth abortion, but it wasn't really about policy. It was about who Obama was, whether the 'distractions' shed any light on that question, and whether he is electable. Perhaps Obama's central point came in the 'lightning round' at the end:

WALLACE: What mistakes have you made? What have you learned about running for president? What have you learned about yourself?

OBAMA: I’ve learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency. Which is, I don’t get too high when I’m high and I don’t get too low when I’m low. And we’ve gone through all kinds of ups and downs.

People forget now that I had been written off last summer. People were writing many of the anguished articles that they’re not writing after our loss in Pennsylvania. On the other hand, after Iowa, when everybody was sure this was over, I think I was more measured and more cautious.

That I think is a temperamental strength.

I say that this point was central, though it came off the cuff at the end, because Obama was demonstrating this 'temperamental strength' throughout. He seemed to be viewing the long slog as if looking back twenty years later. As so often, he seemed like the sole adult on an electoral stage crowded with excitable children. This was true with regard to:

  1. Bob Herbert:

WALLACE: Bob Herbert, columnist for the "New York Times", happens to be a black man, says that Hillary Clinton seems tougher than you do.

OBAMA: Well, look, after you lose then everybody writes these anguished columns about why did you lose? After Iowa, everybody said Obama is transforming folks because he’s bringing in all these voters we never expected would vote for a black guy. This is the nature of politics.

The fact of the matter is that we have done well among every group because people are less interested in dividing the country along racial lines or regional lines. They’re really focused on how we’re going to solve these big problems right now.

  1. Bill Clinton:

WALLACE: Do you agree with him that there’s been a deliberate effort by the former president and some Clinton supporters to make race an issue in this Democratic race?

OBAMA: I don’t think there’s been a deliberate effort. You know, I take the president at his word that he is –

WALLACE: Which one?

OBAMA: Well, oftentimes, you know, I think that he’s been going after me hard. He may not have intended it in a racial way. I think he just sees me as competition against his wife. And that’s what, you know, husbands do, hopefully, or spouses do in political contests.

  1. race:

WALLACE: Senator, for all your efforts to run a post-racial campaign, isn’t there still a racial divide in this country that is going to make it very hard for you to get elected president?

OBAMA: Well, Chris, if you look at the general election polls, we are doing better against John McCain than Senator Clinton is. And we are putting states in play like Colorado and Virginia that have not been in play for a very long time. Here in Indiana, we just — you just saw polling by "The Indianapolis Star" showing me beating John McCain.

And so, look, is race still a factor in our society? Yes. I don’t think anybody would deny that. Is that going to be the determining factor in a general election? No, because I’m absolutely confident that the American people, what they’re looking for is somebody who can solve their problems.

What they’re looking for is somebody who can pull the country together and push back some of the special interests that have come to dominate the agenda, who will tell them the truth about how we’re going to bring down gas prices, how we’re going to bring back jobs. And if I fit the bill, then they will vote for me.

If I lose, it won’t be because of race. It will be because, you know, I made mistakes on the campaign trail, I wasn’t communicating effectively my plans in terms of helping them in their everyday lives. But I don’t think that race is going to be a barrier in the general election.

  1. losing:

WALLACE: If the voting ends in June and you are still leading in superdelegates - I’ll ask again. If the voting ends in June and you’re still leading in the popular votes and delegates and the superdelegates hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton, do you think the young people, the African American people, the young first time voters you brought into this campaign, aren’t they going to be awful angry?

OBAMA: I think there would be some frustration there. It’s not just young people, by the way. This event that we just had here in Marion, Indiana, I had a 48 year old white woman come up to me and say she is voting for the first time. Never voted before. She probably would not vote. It’s possible.

But here is my strong belief. Democrats are going to be unified. I think we should find that person who is going to be best able to not just defeat John McCain but also lead the country. I happen to think I’m that person. I will make that argument forcefully to the superdelegates prior to the convention.

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Looking back, after months of listening to Hillary whine about sexism and McCain whine about Obama's refusal to play "fair" on McCain's terms, I'm struck again by the unequivocal way in which Obama takes responsibility for his own campaign. If I lose, it won’t be because of race. It will be because, you know, I made mistakes on the campaign trail, I wasn’t communicating effectively my plans in terms of helping them in their everyday lives. But I don’t think that race is going to be a barrier in the general election. That, along with his "temperament" (really, this stance is an outgrowth of his temperament) is what's made him always come off as the only adult in our campaign sandbox.

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