Obama's Double Somersault With a Twist Flip-Flop

So it happened like this, according to Barack Obama.

They were having a birthday party for little Malia last weekend in Montana when, all of a sudden, several trucks pull up to the house where they are staying and out jumps Maria Menounos of Access Hollywood, pushing herself and 10,000 pounds of equipment through the door while loudly demanding to interview the candidate, his wife Michelle, and even his kids Sasha and the birthday girl Malia.

Well, Obama and his family were having so much fun and everything that he had something of a brain cramp and, without thinking much about it, agreed on the spot to Menounos interviewing his little darlings.

Sound plausible? Here's a transcript of a Today Show interview with Obama where he explains why he "regrets" allowing his children to be exploited by one of the most exploitive TV shows in on the air today:

LAUER: …some people said wait a minute, the senator is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, you want to protect your private life. On the other hand, here you are sitting with your two daughters and allowing them to answer questions. Did you make the right call on that?

OBAMA: Uh, you know, I think that we, uh, got carried away in the moment. We were having a birthday party and everybody was laughing, and suddenly this thing cropped up. And, uh, I didn’t catch it quickly enough. And I was surprised by the attention it received as well.

LAUER: Senator, if you had to do it over again?

OBAMA: Yah, I won’t be doing it again and we won’t be doing it again.

Suddenly this thing cropped up? Who is Obama trying to kid? This was a coldly calculated effort to use his children as props in the "Getting to Know Obama" campaign that the candidate will be pushing all this month. It certainly helps that effort when you have two cute as a button, clever, photogenic kids to melt the hearts of the viewing audience.

Michelle Malkin points out what's wrong with Obama's "explanation":

He’s got no one to blame but himself for this bad judgment call that wasn’t, to borrow Michelle O’s phrase, good for his kids. Yet, Obama makes it seem as though the cameras just magically appeared from nowhere, taking him by surprise. As if the four-part interview were a spur of the moment decision that “suddenly… cropped up.”

Horse-hockey you can believe in.

A four-part interview that probably entailed hours of set-up, makeup, mic checks, and post-wrap schmoozing… and he “didn’t catch it quickly enough.”

What Obama told Good Morning America about the incident is, if anything, more bizarre:

"It was an exception, it was Malia’s birthday, we were in Montana, everybody was having a good time,” he told Good Morning America talk show on ABC. “I think we got carried away a little bit. Generally what makes them so charming is the fact that they’re not spending a lot of time worrying about TV cameras or politics and we want to keep it that way.”

Asked if he regretted the interview, Obama said: “A little bit of pause, Michelle and I, particularly given the way it sort of went around the cable stations. I don’t think it’s healthy and it’s something that we’ll be avoiding in the future.”

It beggars belief that Obama would have agreed to the Access Hollywood interview without strict ground rules laid out in advance about what questions could be asked and how the children would be approached. If he didn't get these issues clear prior to taping, he's not much of a father -- or a politician, for that matter.

This is why candidates love shows like Access Hollywood. The "interview" is really an extended campaign commercial where the candidate is largely in control of the content. It is to honest journalism what Enron is to accurate accounting. To describe the questions asked as "puffball" does a disservice to the League of Innocuous Interlocutors.

Kevin Drum wonders what's the big deal?

Now, sure: of course young kids should be generally off limits from the campaign press. But does that mean they should literally never be seen on TV? What's the harm? Families are a staple of American politics, people are legitimately curious about what Obama's family is like, and a few minutes with Maria Menounos is the safest, least toxic interview imaginable. It's the 21st century equivalent of one of those carefully staged Life photo spreads from the 50s. Shouldn't we all calm down about this?

All of this is true -- as far as it goes. It isn't so much that Obama allowed his children to become set decorations for his little political tableau that bothers me. It is his shameless lying about how the entire affair came about. This gives him the benefit of showing his children off to the voter (thus garnering all the political capital), while saying out of the other side of his mouth that he "regrets" the kids' exposure which pleases those who may have looked in askance at his exploitive use of his own family.

It's the ultimate, cynical, double somersault with a twist flip-flop. And he's using his own family as lead characters in this little Kabuki production.

Even some Obama supporters are disgusted with this move. Andrew Sullivan:

I can barely credit that Michelle Obama agreed to this and that Barack Obama went along with it -- it's not what they would have done a few months ago. One great aspect of the Obama marriage has been the way in which they appear to have brought up their daughters as very regular girls, down-to-earth, normal and sane. Displaying them in this way was bad judgment and poor parenting. Fame is a toxin. Children deserve to be protected from it as much as they would from lead paint.

Any one of these misjudgments would be a trivial lapse -- and we all make mistakes. It's the combination that concerns me -- and the possibility that this campaign is becoming far too cocky for its own good.

It is the overweening confidence in his own abilities -- he believes he can say anything about any subject at any time and people will swallow his switch in positions and accept that he is sincere in his beliefs -- that is at the bottom of Obama's recent spate of flip-flops. This includes his shocking exploitation and then "regret" about using his own family to carefully craft an image to counter the "elitist" tag he has been burdened with for months. All politicians have a little of this. Obama carries an abundance of it.

The press have tried to keep up with these rapid-fire changes in direction by the candidate but seem to be uninterested in putting too much effort in reporting on the differences between Obama then and now. On Iraq, Obama seemed to come full circle on his position in a matter of hours. He first advocated talking with the generals on the ground in Iraq before determining a course of action, then tried to put that statement in context with his own withdrawal plan, and finally abandoned the consultation aspect of his position altogether as he reverted to his original position of telling the generals to end the war and withdraw the troops.

Only a cynic could look at that dizzying change of positions and say with a straight face that his plan for Iraq had never altered. And perhaps that's what the Access Hollywood incident revealed of Obama most of all: for someone who proclaims himself an American optimist -- a man who will unite us by practicing a new kind of politics -- he certainly demonstrates a hard-edged cynicism when it comes to doing what it takes to win an election.