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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Teachable Moment

It was just a little joke. But it also lead to a teachable moment for those seeking insights into Obama’s style of presidential leadership.
Asked by the President to administer the oath of office to incomming senior staff members yesterday, Vice President Biden cracked wise “Am I doing this again? Oh! For the senior staff. My memory’s not as good as Justice Roberts’ … Chief Justice Roberts.”
Most politicians would have responded with a collegial chuckle or at least a little grin. President Obama’s reaction, however, could fairly be described as chilly (see here) . No smile, just a pat on the back urging his wayward veep to get back on point. Obama’s unspoken message was “this is the peoples’ business, Joe. Put a lid on it.”
Suffice it to say that the era of frat boy humor in the white house is over. It was a little incident, but what impressed me about it was how it revealed Obama’s sense of propriety. He is always alert to what is going on around him, and smartly avoids unnecessary controversy. Had he responded in a more typical way, yukking it up with Biden, some reporter might have twisted it into a ‘President Disses Chief Justice’ distraction du jour.
Obama is not a stiff. He knows when to relax and have a little fun, as was indicated by his question to the crowd at one of the inaugural parties, “Have I got a good-lookin’ wife?”
It’s not a put-down of Biden, who has impressive qualifications to assume the presidency if need be, a major reason why Obama chose him as his running mate. The other being that President Obama clearly values his expertise, particularly on foreign policy and wants him near. It’s just a very different style of leadership. The incident suggests that our new president has a seriousness about his responsibilities, large and small, that hasn’t been seen in the white house for many a year, which should be a great asset for getting things done.

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