Obama as a reluctant prop

French President Sarkozy was in Washington today. He and President Obama held a joint appearance before the press — the kind of appearance Obama declined to stage with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was in town last week.
Obama’s performance during the joint appearance is worthy of note, not because of what Obama said (though he did say, in response to a question, that he expects some sort of U.N. sanctions against Iran within weeks) but because of the way he said it. The president read his bland statement in a monotone making little effort at eye contact. In short, Obama failed to pay Sarkozy even the honor of using a teleprompter.
Sarkozy, by contrast, provided an energetic performance which was enhanced by an energetic translator. He was animated and did not read, at least not from papers or notes.
You can see what I’m talking about in the clips below. The first clip of Obama is from his prepared remarks. In the second cllip, he’s responding to a question, and thus not reading. However, even on the subject of Iran, he continues to display a lethargy that suggests he’d rather be somewhere else.

Sarkozy, by contrast, is clearly where he wants to be. Having suffered a rebuke in French regional elections, he would like to demonstrate his credentials as a statesman and a player on the world stage. What better way to accomplish this than by standing on the same stage as the U.S. president talking about Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, the world economy?
No wonder Obama played it so detached — a man for whom the whole world is a prop does not appreciate being used as a prop himself.
Tellingly, Obama’s most animated moment (which is not in the clip above) came in response to a question about whether the American president is listening to European leaders. Although the question was directed to Sarkozy, Obama answered it by insisting that he listens to Sarkozy “all the time” and, indeed, “cannot stop listening to Nicolas.”
It seemed clear today that Obama resents that aspect of his job.


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