Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 9, 2009

NO MORE BUBBLE BOY.... At an event in Elkhart, Indiana, today, an audience member asked President Obama, "You have come to our county and asked us to trust you, but those that you have appointed to your cabinet are not trustworthy and cannot handle their own budget and tax issues. I'm one of those who thinks you need to have a beer with Sean Hannity, so tell me why, from my side..."

As my friend Alex Koppelman noted, when the questioner elicited boos, the president intervened, silenced the crowd, and said the woman raised a legitimate question. After addressing the substance, Obama joked:

"Now, with respect to Sean Hannity, I didn't know that he had invited me for a beer. But I will take that under advisement. Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high. But, uh, but I'm always good for a beer."

Now, it's always good when a public official can defuse tension with a little humor, and I'm very glad Obama defended the woman's right to ask a confrontational question. But reading about this, another angle comes to mind: since when can critics of the president attend public events and ask unscreened questions?

Apparently, as of about 20 days ago.

Throughout George W. Bush's presidency, White House staffers implemented what were generally called "Bubble Boy" policies. The goal was to shield the former president from those who may have disagreed with him or might ask him questions he didn't want to answer. The anti-dissent policy was often taken to comical lengths, including blocking people from attending public events based on their bumper stickers, requiring loyalty oaths for tickets, and in at least one instance, rehearsing a town-hall meeting a day in advance.

In contrast, consider Obama's approach to diversity of thought. The new president traveled to an economically-depressed community that voted heavily for his opponent in November. Tickets to the event were publicly available to anyone, no loyalty oaths or Democratic fealty required. White House staffers didn't check bumper-stickers for conservative messages, and there was no "blacklist" of Republicans who would be denied entry. There were no hand-picked questions and no hand-picked questioners.

So this is what it's like to have a president with the courage of his convictions, and the confidence to talk to Americans who may disagree with him. I'd almost forgotten.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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Comments

Myself, I really liked Axelrod saying that we'll see who asks the better questions, the citizens or the journalists.

Posted by: jayackroyd on February 9, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

But the press will take the fact that hostile questions were asked as evidence that the wheels are coming off.

Posted by: Joe Buck on February 9, 2009 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, and let's have people who take advice from David Duke or Joe the Plumber asking questions.

Posted by: Obama -- Not as Tough as the Steelers on February 9, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

I really hope this doesn't evolve into the President actually having a beer with Hannity.
The man is a crazed liar and doesn't deserve it be taken seriously.

Posted by: B.Mick on February 9, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

So this is what it's like to have a president with the courage of his convictions, and the confidence to talk to Americans who may disagree with him.

Umm...You left the out intellectual agility and command of the facts with which to answer unscripted questions.

Was the bubble policy of the Bush regime designed to protect him from us, or us from his train wrecks of thought? After all, a blathering idiot will never inspire confidence.

Posted by: JoeW on February 9, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

I watched this moment and I was pleasantly surprised at the aplum that President Obama handled himself with when this question was asked. As a staunch supporter of him, I felt a little queasy too when it was asked, wondering if they had planned for controversial queries beforehand, but it seems that they had, and it was good to hear the president address an alternate view of the issue.

Posted by: Rebw on February 9, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Buck wrote: "But the press will take the fact that hostile questions were asked as evidence that the wheels are coming off."

Of course they will -- since "the press" consists of employees of the handful of giant corporations that own virtually all of the mass media in the USA, and as such it is the job of "the press" to propagandize the American people in furtherance of their owners' agenda. Which is, in this instance, to undermine public support for and confidence in a popular, populist, liberal Democratic president.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 9, 2009 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Just to clarify -- Obama's time and resources are very limited. Spending them on people who hate him and are actively working to undermine him is beyond foolish.

Posted by: Obama -- Not as Tough as the Steelers on February 9, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I'll second what Joe Buck said. I anticipate another interview with Andy Card where he chastises Obama for allowing a questioner to sully the office of the president by asking a question that directly demeaned him, the President. Therefore, by extension, Obama was demeaning the office of the Presidency by allowing dissent. The irony that Card is allowed to demean the office of the Presidency by going on TV and insulting the President by who he allows to ask questions will, of course, be lost on the dullard.

Posted by: slappy magoo on February 9, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

"Just to clarify -- Obama's time and resources are very limited. Spending them on people who hate him and are actively working to undermine him is beyond foolish."

No, it's not. Because the alternative would be to set up those draconian Potemkin Village procedures that the Bush administration used, and the whole world KNEW then that the American government lived in a traveling 'Green Zone' and was afraid to come in contact with the American citizens.

Posted by: JoyceH on February 9, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

That woman might be surprised what might happen if Hannity listened to an intelligent semi-progressive for twenty minutes.

hmmm.. Hannity listening. I wonder if that's plausible.

Meh.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 9, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

And Obama got a big cheer when he said he's always up for a beer. This was a great event, all around.

Posted by: Amy on February 9, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

"So this is what it's like to have a president with the courage of his convictions, and the confidence to talk to Americans who may disagree with him."
I watched him on my lunch hour - What a breath of fresh air . Every time I see him speak I know he he will not a good president , but a great president. He has something George Bush Draft Dodger never had a brain and balls.

Posted by: John R on February 9, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Good for him. Neither the media, nor the republican party, NOR the democratic party represent the people well. Best he talk directly to us. That is where his power base is.

Posted by: red state mike on February 9, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: I'm with you 100%. Your comment is almost verbatim to that of my standard response to anyone who "wonders" why the corporate media "fail to ask" this; or "don't they get" that. I frequently notice these "wondering" questions from a lot of prominent bloggers (Atrios, Digby, and yes, Steve B.). It makes me want to tear my hair out.

Posted by: bikelib on February 9, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

'I really hope this doesn't evolve into the President actually having a beer with Hannity.
The man is a crazed liar and doesn't deserve it be taken seriously.
Posted by: B.Mick on February 9, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK'

Be very surprised if Hannity doesn't make a fuss about this and call Obama out as a coward if he doesn't meet for a beer. It's a self promoters dream. A better response would have been to say, '
When Hannity shows the ability to have a single original, plausibly constructive idea, I'll be happy to read a letter he sends to me about it.'

Posted by: Michael7843853 on February 9, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Do people really identify themselves by counties in Indiana?

I could see "You have come to our city" or "You have come to our state", but "You have come to our county"? Really?

Posted by: Old School on February 9, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's confidence is also shown by having a prime-time press conference. Did W. have any of those?

Talking to people who disagree with you is politically smart, whether or not they change their minds. It moves people are are not firmly against you to respect you and to listen to you. That includes the Senate centrists, whose policy views are not what I agree with, but who are needed for many votes in the future on major policy issues.

Posted by: Amy on February 9, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

"You have come to our county "

I bet this wingnut really meant "You have come to our country". WTF does that mean? The old Obama is a Muslim angle, not a citizen?

Posted by: Fast Eddie on February 9, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Old School-

yes, some parts of Indiana are known primarily by the name of their counties, especially the more rural ones. Elkhart County is one of them. Growing up in Indiana, I'm sure she indeed meant to say county and not country.

Posted by: Jane on February 9, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

I turned it on just before the last question, when Obama seemed to look at a piece of paper and then call on a nine year old. Was this what he did throughout the event? If so, is the story not so much that he was taking questions at random, but that he or his staff were picking a variety of views?

Posted by: Danp on February 9, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

"You have come to our county and asked us to trust you,..."

Say what?

Posted by: CJ on February 9, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of episodes of West Wing where the President of the United States actually listened to the ideas of his constituents.

Posted by: SteveA on February 9, 2009 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama will eventually make the opposition look like a bunch of crazed fools but this will take time.

Do we have that much time?

Why can't he take the questions about what the country needs to do about the vile nutjobs out there? About how they're getting teachers, cops, firefighters laid off while banks that are BROKE are getting TRILLIONS?

Posted by: Glen on February 9, 2009 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's confidence is also shown by having a prime-time press conference. Did W. have any of those?

I think he averaged about one every four years, literally.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on February 9, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

In the Midwest, there are rural areas where people do, indeed, identify themselves as residents of the county rather than a city (of which there may not be any) or the state (which is too large an entity to matter in some cases). If you live on a farm in a county where the county seat has a population below 25,000, you might well think in terms of county.

Posted by: Roberta on February 9, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Obama to crazy hicks: here, have some rope to hang yourself with. I don't mind, really.

Posted by: doubtful on February 9, 2009 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Do people really identify themselves by counties in Indiana?

I grew up in Southern Illinois, and this didn't really ring false to me. In a lot of the rural midwest, there are a lot of people who don't live in towns or cities, and even if you do, the majority of your county isn't within a city limits. I think this probably sounds a lot weirder to people who live in cities than it does to rural dwellers (I've been both).

Posted by: EarBucket on February 9, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Obama does not fear the confrontational question.

Why do Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, FauxNoise, and the right-wing blogs all fear the confrontational question? Has Obama, in only a mere 20 days, sent them all running with their rat-like tails tucked between their legs, like terrified pups?

Inquiring minds want to know....

Posted by: Steve W. on February 9, 2009 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

This was a "question" from someone who "disagreed" with Obama?

My, how our discourse has eroded.

"You need to have a beer with my favorite spittle-flecked TV demagogue"

"I don't trust you because most the tax cheats you've chosen lack the all-important (R) after their names."

Clearly, statements like these herald the resurgence of informed debate. Hallelujah!

Posted by: Lionel Hutz, attorney-at-law on February 9, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK
I really hope this doesn't evolve into the President actually having a beer with Hannity. The man is a crazed liar and doesn't deserve it be taken seriously.
I'm fine with it as long as a food taster drinks half of Obama's beer first. Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 9, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I'll bet he does have a beer with Hannity some time soon and they make it an interview and he diffuses some of Hannity's bullshit. I'd watch. It would be the first time in years that I stopped on Fox for more than a second.

Posted by: Patrick on February 9, 2009 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Barack,
BYOB

Posted by: Patrick on February 9, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

To refresh all of our memories Shit Stain Bush had exactly one prime time news conference. And that was the time just before he had our country invade Iraq. And so for this 'news conference' what we actually had was a collusion between the Corporate Media and Bush's administration. And what that collusion was a coordinated deception of the Amercian people. The Administration picked the 'reporters' who were to be there, and 'scripted' their 'questions' to the 'president' whom himself has spent that day memorizing the 'answers' too. The coordinated deception was so complete that they actually had 'reporters' there who waved their hands, like a normal news conference, knowing that they would not be called on. So here we had the 'president' who had been scripted to answer the scripted questions given to the Corporate Media before hand. A total fucking collusion. This is the type of thing that Scott Macllelan refered too when he called out the Corporate Media for their 'active complicity' in promoting the war with Iraq that the Corporations in collusion with the Bush administration wanted. And guess who the main ringleader was of the event that represented the Corporate Media ? Mr David 'Swollen Lips' Gregory of the General Electric Corporation.

Posted by: stormskies on February 9, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK
Do people really identify themselves by counties in Indiana?
In Ohio too, and not only in rural areas. I, for example, will usually say that I live in Lake County (the next county east of Cuyahoga where Cleveland and its inner suburbs are), because the township I live in is somewhat obscure even to people in other parts of Greater Cleveland. Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 9, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

I know this county (I live south of there), and probably she's from one of the little towns around the "big city" of Elkhart, or in the unincorporated areas (probably more than 50% of the county). In the Midwest, the county is often the important governmental entity. Lots of high schools, for example, are countywide, and the sheriff patrols the whole county, not any city.

So she probably is from the COUNTY of Elkhart, but not the city. The Midwest still has a lot of rural unincorporated areas.

Posted by: Antial on February 9, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK
Do people really identify themselves by counties in Indiana?

Ouch. Seems to me that this is indicative of how we've lost touch with each other and how other folks view themselves.

Posted by: gwangung on February 9, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

"I could see "You have come to our city" or "You have come to our state", but "You have come to our county"? Really?"

Yeah, they do. I'm from this part of the midwest, and it is pretty densely populated outside of town limits. There are few "cities" IN Indiana. Elkhart is a "town" but a lot of people at the event probably didn't live in town.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on February 9, 2009 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

He's a good talker, and good with people. We learned that on the campaign trail. And yep, it's nice to see that the President is, literally, listening to questions from the other side of the political fence.

So, now that we've got all the "Meet the New Boss, really, we promise he's not the same as the old boss" out of the way, what *was* his answer to why we should trust him when his cabinet appointees seem like liars and tax-cheats?

Posted by: Mary Sue on February 9, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

It's not just the midwest, most of Northern Virginia would identify themselves as being from Fairfax County or Arlington County. Arlington has no cities in it, Fairfax has both independent cities (Alexandria) (which is not part of any county) and townships (Vienna,Va.), plus, "informal names of indefinite locations," e.g. Bailey's Crossroads, Annandale, etc..

Posted by: Bill on February 9, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I see my fellow Midwesterners answered aplenty before I did. You know, tho, that the people who questioned "county" don't know what a township is either, don't you?

Shows LaPalin isn't the only one who is unfamiliar with the OTHER "real America."

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on February 9, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK


I thought the Bush rage would have subsided by now, but honestly, seeing these kinds of contrast have made it worse. The worst is not the Hannity-bots, who I can dismiss as idiots, it's all the "Bush wasn't such a bad guy" jackholes.

Posted by: winner on February 9, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Indeed it's not just the Midwest. My usual answer to the question of where I grew up in NY State is "Rockland County" (in the lower Hudson Valley).

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 9, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I could see "You have come to our city" or "You have come to our state", but "You have come to our county"? Really?

Haven't spent much time in rural areas, have you? In the part of Missouri I technically call home (my dad joined the Navy to get the hell out of there) our county seat is about a thousand people and the county proper has about ten thousand people total. The county is the governing authority. Many of the little towns have no police force what so ever, not even a "night watchman" or town constable. The sheriffs department is the only law enforcement, unless a state trooper happens to cruise through.

Posted by: Blue Girlb on February 9, 2009 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Red State Mike wrote: Neither the media, nor the republican party, NOR the democratic party represent the people well.

Mike is so cute when he tries to pretend to be nonpartisan -- especially since he imagines we forget his lengthy record of ignorant partisanship.

But Obama wasn't trying to influence Democrats to support the stimulus by going to the people, numbskull.

(Okay, maybe "Blue Dog" Bayh. But it's the Republicans and the media -- but I repeat myself -- that are most responsible for preventing aid from reaching middle class families.)

Better trolls, please.

Posted by: Gregory on February 9, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Of course he's taking hostile questions now. He hasn't had time yet to sign an executive order enacting sharia law, use his millions of netroots followers to enslave the white race, send stormtroopers to disarm Republicans, and silence his right-wing critics through his secret Fairness and Unbalanced Doctrine.

Posted by: shortstop on February 9, 2009 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's actual practice of democratic principles--taking his case directly to the people and letting them respond to him directly--is a silent but devastating condemnation of the Bush presidency. Bush was singularly incapable of this basic requirement of democratically elected leaders, clear evidence that the man was grossly unfit for the office.

Posted by: Bob C on February 9, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Did Obama take any questions from leftists? Obama might be happy to take questions from the likes of Joe the plumber, but he avoids Karl.

Posted by: Brojo on February 9, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK
Hannity listening. I wonder if that's plausible.

No, its not. SASQ.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 9, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

so CMD, would your response be a SASQuash?

Posted by: Michael7843853 on February 9, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK
You know, tho, that the people who questioned "county" don't know what a township is either, don't you?

A township? Like an aircraft carrier? (I'm assuming the description is population-based.)

They got town meetings in them townships? Or is it run by a captain, who is never wrong?

Posted by: kenga on February 9, 2009 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, Kenga, there are townships in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; I know, since I lived in both states.

Posted by: Vincent on February 9, 2009 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

If you listen to Slanthead for information, you will become stupid....unless you already are.

"When you came to this country..." WTF???

Posted by: pokeybob on February 9, 2009 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

It's strategically smart to meet with people who voted against you; when you talk things over, you sometimes find you have things in common & can work together on some things. At the least, your opponent seems that you're not a jerk.

But, strategic stuff aside, I'm *proud* to have a president who isn't afraid of ordinary Americans who merely disagree with him. Obama was not my 1st choice in the primaries, but every day he shows me that he's a great public servant for our great nation!

Posted by: rewinn on February 10, 2009 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

What a silly article. Barack Obama is worshiped. He does not have to deal with the irrational hate that George W. Bush had to deal with.

I wish you and Obama would go have your discussion in Cuba and stay there.

I'll bet you delete this one.

Posted by: Blabit Guy on February 10, 2009 at 6:16 AM | PERMALINK

Why would the moderators want to delete a comment that shows rightwingers to be small-minded, nasty, delusional and un-American?

If you think Obama doesn't have any critics, where did you come from?

If it only counts when half or more of the country opposes your policies then why did Bush need the bubble during the run-up to the Iraq war, when the traditional "rally-around-the-flag" impulse pushed his approval numbers into the same range Obama has now.

And the suggestion that we all leave the country -- this is the duly elected President and more than half the population of the country you are talking about (right?) -- please grow up.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 10, 2009 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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