William Kristol regurgitates all the right-wing talking points about the election results: Barack Obama didn’t really win by that much, and he will be governing with the same majorities that Bill Clinton had, there’s hope for the Republicans, blah, blah, blah. But then he gets to the puppy.
Not out of my deep affection for dogs, fond of them though I am. But because while we’ve all known that Obama is a very skillful politician, he hasn’t until now been a particularly empathetic one. Competence plus warmth is a pretty potent combination. Suddenly visions of the two great modern realigning presidents — Franklin Roosevelt (with his Scottish terrier Fala) and Ronald Reagan (with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel Rex) — flashed before my eyes. Maybe a realignment could be coming.
Here, in a few sentences, Obama did the following: He deepened his bond with every dog lover in America. He identified with every household that’s tried to figure out what kind of dog to get. He touched every parent with a kid allergic to pets. He showed compassion by preferring a dog from a shelter. And he demonstrated a dry and slightly politically incorrect wit by commenting that “a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.”
Not bad. It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives.
It will be tougher yet if they underestimate Obama. His selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff suggests that Obama’s not going to be mindlessly leftist, and that he’s going to shape a legislative strategy that is attentive to Congressional realities while not deferring to a Congressional leadership whose interests may not be his own. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both tripped up in their first two years by their Democratic Congresses. Obama intends for Emanuel to ensure that that doesn’t happen.
I’ll give him some leeway for his tongue-in-cheekiness, and as long as the rest of his pals on the right keep underestimating Mr. Obama, the easier it will be for him to confound them.
Actually, that shouldn’t be too hard. After all, these are the same people who for the last eight years have been telling everyone that George W. Bush is an articulate and engaged leader who really cares about preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution.