President Obama is many things, but comfortable retail politician he is not. In the run-up to the 2008 election, he was an effective speaker to large crowds and masterful at presenting himself with enough gloss that disenchanted folks from hard left to slightly right-of-center could see themselves reflected in him. But put the president in an unscripted moment with “average” people, such as those who ran into him yesterday at a restaurant in Reidsville, N.C., and you get glimpses of a stiff, stilted scold.
Check out this series of exchanges captured by the pool news reporter:
To one man, Obama said: “Now, you ate all your vegetables before you had dessert,” noting his wife’s focus on healthy eating.
He greeted another couple, one of whom is an outgoing Reidsville City Council member. They told the president how long they’d been married.
“Michelle and I have been married 19 – We’ve got 44 to go to catch up with you.”
Leaving the restaurant, the president worked a rope line.
“You’ve got to work hard,” he said to one pair of community college students.
One woman handed Obama a phone, telling him that her grandmother was on the line. “Hey grandma — boy this is an old style phone … I appreciate you.”
Called me old-fashioned — though I no longer own an “old style phone” — but I’m not greatly interested in running into politicians who might choose to critique my choice of lunch items and the order in which I eat them. A skillful politician, say a Reagan or a Clinton, might smile conspiratorially and make a joke about how good my dessert looks, or flatter me by asking for a menu recommendation. He wouldn’t thank me for following his wife’s dietary pronouncements, then instruct a passing college student to study hard, then make fun of a grandson’s phone to his grandma.
Yes, I know that the ability to mix with the common folks may not be a necessary skill for heading the executive branch of the federal government. Honestly, I care less about a president’s ability to engage in small talk than I do about a president’s desire to steal my money and trample my liberty. But Obama’s people apparently think it matters, and that he’s good at it.
They think a lot of things, few of them true.