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The uses of petulance

President Obama turned in a rare performance on the debt ceiling negotiations on Friday night. Here is the transcript; the video is below. The performance was rare not only in the context of Obama’s cool persona, but also in the history of presidential statements and press conferences.

One would have to go back to Bill Clinton denying sexual relations with “that woman” to find a similarly angry presidential performance, and Obama’s had just about the same quotient of truth in it that Clinton’s did. That would be none. I can think of other angry presidential statements prior to Clinton’s, but I think Clinton’s is the statement to which Obama’s can most usefully be compared.

Obama’s performance on Friday is one that bears dwelling on, if not for too long. I don’t think we can learn much from it that we did not know before. Obama is extraordinarily cold, calculating, disrespectful, and uninhibited by scruples in dealing with his political opponents, whom he treats like dirt. The one element of authenticity that creeps into his remarks is his lack of respect for his opponents.

Obama has treated the debt and deficit issues in purely political terms, and, unlike the Republicans, he has yet to put his cards on the table. Boehner’s walkout appears to have been triggered by significant backtracking by Obama in the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary and tax cheat Timothy Geithner did not deny it in his appearance on Fox News Sunday this morning. It would have been a major mistake for Boehner to have acceded to Obama’s repositioning. It is a classic sign of of bad faith.

Maybe Obama was genuinely angry that Boehner finally accepted Obama’s invitation to “call his bluff,” but I doubt it. To Obama’s arsenal of political weapons we can add this one: the Big Lie, vehemently asserted.

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