Tale of two zingers


Not only Obama, but Iran’s Supreme Leader, spoke with a barbed tongue this week.

It was the week of the artful put-down. The first was Obama’s now infamous response to Hillary Clinton’s protest, at the last presidential New Hampshire debate, that “I don’t think I’m that bad.”

“You’re likeable enough,” he replied in the zinger heard around the world.

“That one-liner swung the primary,” said Reason Magazine’s David Weigel. Along with countless others, he recoiled at Obama apparently taking advantage of Hillary’s newfound vulnerability.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen called it a “patronizing dismissal. . . . A version of ‘nice personality’ — the killer description of a girl from my high school days.”

The hard right’s favorite sourpuss, Charles Krauthammer, found it a “gratuitous self-indicting aside. . . . deeply ungracious. . . from a candidate who had the country in a swoon over his campaign of grace and uplift.”

But others saw it in a different light. Responding to Krauthammer’s article, Infidel65 commented, “When Obama said it he wasn’t smirking or smiling; he was frowning, as if to say ‘let’s move on from this BS.'”

Another commenter wrote, “Obama looked as exasperated as I felt. His. . . response is one I expect he’s given to his daughters when they’ve been trying to attract attention inappropriately.”

It seemed obvious that Obama was impatient with Hillary’s latest tactic, playing the voters’ heartstrings. But whether or not Obama thus sealed his New Hampshire death warrant, there’s no denying how sweet his riposte was.

And not just for those of us filled with contempt, whether rational or not, for Hillary. Obama’s positions represent pickings only slightly less slim for progressives than Hillary’s. In fact, the moment was also to be savored just for the artfulness of it.

You have to admit it would be cool to have a president who’s, well, cool. Remember the ease with which Obama sank that three-pointer on one try in a South Carolina high school gym earlier this year? Obama’s killer line to Hillary was all that and more.

Phrases like “rapier wit,” “damning with faint praise,” and “back-handed compliment” don’t do it justice. Tacking on “enough” to an adjective is something those who consider themselves funny or hip might do among friends. But to hear a serious contender for the presidency deliver that line, and with the aplomb of a top stand-up comedian or actor, was beyond compare.

If Hillary winds up winning the nomination, at least we’ll always have New Hampshire.

Another zinger slipped below the radar even though it was for even higher stakes than the presidency of the United States. Iran watcher M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote at Asia Times Online that the “Bush administration is beginning to grasp that it has no option but to negotiate with Iran. But a new danger is that negotiations with Iran, too, may soon become a non-option.”

Why? Because we equated cowboy Iranian speedboat drivers with the attack on the US Cole?

Bhadrakumar explains. “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that at the moment, relations with the US are of ‘no benefit to the Iranian nation. The day such relations are of benefit, I will be the first one to approve of that.'”

If that sounds like a serious diss to you, you’re right. “Persians generally don’t talk with people who are inconsequential,” writes Bhadrakumar.

In other words, “anticipating the post-Bush era,” Supreme Leader Khamenei has flicked our president aside.

7 replies »

  1. On what planet are these remarks thought so wildly witty? They’re both inevitable remarks. You say certain things, and you get certain responses. If you could program a computer well enough to respond competently to all statements addressed to it, that computer would respond with these comments or similar ones.

    This column makes me think of high school, where I or someone else could make some inevitable or obvious comment and the other students would respond by patting a shoulder and saying, “Whoa, good one!”

    Yeah, whoa, good one. Overpraise for normal human communication. Way to go.

  2. When I was in high school I used to think it would be cool to have an especially witty president, but I’ve subsequently realized that, because of the president’s visibility and influence, s/he has a responsibility to weigh words with exceptional care.

  3. It seems that after Clinton’s upset in NH, every political pundit and their mother was scrambling to find a reason for it. One obvious knee to jerk was her teary eyes and the Softer Side of Sears/Clinton. The next (which makes the most sense to me) was the economic fears, parsed from the exit polls, of those who voted for her; those were deemed more practical than idealistic. And the third was Obama’s impatience with Clinton’s emotional self-preening. As much as there is the whiff of a cult of personality around Obama’s campaign, he has always tried to shape the choice between two very different styles of governing. Hope vs. fear. Striving for something better vs. just keeping what you fear at bay.

    I believe Clinton’s best hope is to keep the electorate afraid, of the economy, terrorists, the “vast Right Wing conspiracy”, so that they will stick with the known known quantity, even if it is an inferior quality. This will need to be balanced by a warmer shade of Martha Stewart. I watched a town meeting she hosted the Sunday before the vote and she was playing the very gracious host with Hillary taking down the restraining ropes to let a mother with a young baby through and Chelsea giving up her seat for them. All cynicism aside it was a very heartwarming moment and she was very sincere about waiting for everyone to come in and find a place to sit and then taking the time to answer all of their questions before she left. Of course I then read yesterday how her advance team moved bleachers around and limited entry to create the illusion of a full house.

    Obama on the other hand was overplaying the heartstrings while giving the brass tacks a short shrift. He was playing his frontrunner status too hard on the stage in front of huge stadiums giving a great speech and leaving without asking questions (at least at the CSPAN event that I saw). I think he will do better now that he isn’t the obvious front runner and he will go back to retail politics in NV and SC. He looked like he was getting ahead of himself with the polls showing a strong lead and Clinton’s Halo of Inevitability floating over to him.

    Either way I’m glad the race isn’t over yet so it will give more people more say in who will be their leader for the next four years, including myself.

  4. Djerred – agreed. I’m actually quite thrilled that the first two states went for 4 different candidates. Now all we need is for the Michigan Democrats for Mitt Romney help him in Michigan to keep everything really interesting.

    As much as I still think it’ll all be over on Feb. 5, I have the occasional wild fantasy about the 2008 Democratic convention in actually being up in the air.

  5. I love a good zinger as much as the next guy. But it’s frustrating to live in a society where these kinds of issues are seen as important. Discuss POLICY?! What are you, stupid?!

    If it gets any worse, we’ll have to start deciding elections via a Smack-Off, moderated by Jim Rome.

  6. We’re taking this “swing” at face value?

    There is much evidence of vote fraud, and Diebold systems are notorious for being hackable.

    There simply are no more elections if people don’t demand an end to black box voting.

    Hillary has been the darling of Fox news for some time now (strong indication that certain factions are backing her). She’s a neocon. Her hubby vacations with Poppy Bush.

    We have had no legitimate elections at least since 2000. And the entire issue can just be ignored?