What Obama Could Learn from Jimmy Kimmel


During the last two days, pop culture has witnessed two tours de force. One featuring Barack Obama taking on Republican House members in Baltimore, the other is Jimmy Kimmel taking on Jay Leno.

By the way, as much as Obama’s virtuoso performance deserves rave reviews, Jimmy Kimmel’s latest cut down of Jay Leno gets closer to the American zeitgeist.

Here’s the difference: Kimmel cut to the quick, his finger jiggling with a hot and funny political nerve. Obama reasoned and countered effectively but let his opponent walk away. What’s missing is the verbal conversation ender, the knock out.  What’s frustrating is that Obama deliberately wants the conversation to continue; he wants deliberative discourse in a very Habermasian way. But in the time it takes to teach his opponents the rules of deliberative discourse, his party might well lose the next election or two.

We know the set-up. For the last year, the GOP has taunted President Obama and given him barely a vote from stimulus to healthcare. People without health insurance quite literally are dying while HCR lingers in congress’ chambers. In the meantime, the GOP questions the legitimacy of Obama’s leadership, suggesting he wasn’t born proper in the USA– now compare that with questions of the legitimacy of the Bush presidency in 2000. Bush stole the 2000 election; Obama was born. get the difference?

Obama showed some pluck as he strategically and effectively– I think– boxed Republicans into working with him or being hi-jacked by Tea partiers.  It was a job well done, but was so subtle as to have been lost on many viewers whose support he was courting.

Switch to Kimmel who just slams Jay Leno over the frivolous late night wars. No comparison in gravity of situation. yes comparison in how it was handled. If Obama had only had a little more Kimmel in him, he would have registered a sharp warning to an equally infantile audience that he knows how to dance his finger on the nerve of the  GOP. Case in point: Obama could have and should have reminded Jason Chaffitz, a patronizing questioner of the president, for hissuccessful efforts to remove full body scanners from airports before the underwear bomber incident. Were it not for Chaffitz, the president should have said, people like the underwear bomber would not be able to board commercial aircraft.,

Kimmel would have done that mercilessly and with humor. Obama won the exchanges and the others too– he showed he was the smartest person in that Baltimore ballroom; but he almost invited infantile GOP behavior to continue. Kimmel’s warning to Leno was clear. I am going to eviscerate you. would have worked in that Baltimore ballroom, especially once the cameras started rolling.

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2 responses to “What Obama Could Learn from Jimmy Kimmel

  1. Jimmy Kimmel for President!

    But seriously. The real issue is that Barack Obama simply doesn’t WANT to eviscerate anybody. It seems to be deeply embedded in his personality. If you recall, the ’04 speech that put him on the map essentially said “why can’t we all just get along?”

    That’s a deeply admirable quality in a man. Not necessarily the most prudent way of dealing with a radical force, bent on your destruction and succeeding to some extent, when you’re the most powerful person in the world and expected to act as a leader.

  2. Sorry Robert, I respectfully disagree, at least in part. In the political domain, as in entertainment, we witness a battle of words waged for the attention and embrace of an electorate or an audience. Words, not policies or deeds.

    But what we witnessed the other night when Obama engaged with Republican legislators was not just about electoral politics but also about governance. What we witnessed what a glimpse behind the curtain, allusions to the genesis of ‘talking points’ and campaign rhetoric for ‘scoring points’ and an accounting of the cost in terms of the legislative process and reform. We saw the kind of speech that is designed to appeal to opposition leadership, not their followers.

    Sadly, rational argument may not be relevant for voters. But it is still an essential part of coalition building in the legislative process. Arm-twisting and horse trading, of course, are the other…

    Ironically, in my opinion and at least in this situation anyway, a verbal bludgeoning in public makes you less rather than more effective as a leader.

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