As Rob Long wrote last year at National Review, “Rule One of great acting is, Do not read the stage directions:”
You don’t, for instance, wrap up Hamlet’s big Act Two soliloquy — “ . . . the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” — and then say “Exit.”
Years ago, during the George H. W. Bush administration, public-opinion surveys began to register a troubling trend for a president campaigning for reelection: More and more people felt that Bush just didn’t care about people’s suffering during the (fairly shallow) recession of the early 1990s.
You’ve got to send them the message that you care, they told him. So, dutifully, in his next big public outing, he tried to send the message to the voters that he cared. He wound up a boilerplate stump speech by declaring, with as much passion as he could muster, “Message: I care!”
No, no, Mr. President, you could imagine his advisers saying. The “message” part is for us, it’s an internal thing. You’re supposed to give them the message that you care. By showing that you care.
Right, he might have replied, I did that. How much clearer could I have been?
You’re not supposed to say the “message” part, they might have replied as the presidential limo sped away.
But it says right here on the talking-points card you gave me, he could have shouted back. Right here! “Message: I care!”
But by that time, a pudgy governor of Arkansas had already bit his lower lip, felt our pain, and made us temporarily ignore his brittle wife. That was a guy who understood Rule One.
The truth was, Bush really didn’t care. The 1990–91 recession was almost over by the time he started getting walloped in the polls, before someone had handed him a memo titled “Messaging That Bush Cares” or something equally futile. Unemployment, slow growth, these things had already started turning around. There was nothing for him to do. And as all grownups know, recessions happen.
But saying “Message: I care!” captured all of the loose threads out in the crazytown of public opinion and braided them together into part of the rope that ended up hanging the first Bush administration.
Flash-forward to today: “‘By the way, I have no problem with folks saying Obama cares. I do care,’ Obama said. ‘If the other side wants to be the folks that don’t care, that’s fine with me.'”
But why is it OK with you, when the nation wants to see you work with Congress rather than wage Alinskyite class-warfare against them, a continuation of his Alinsky-style war against the American people for the past three years?
Oh, and important advice from Bill Clinton, that as always, is a dual-edged sword. Maybe a tri-edged sword, since he manages to bloody both himself and Obama with his rhetoric:
Speaking at a fire fighter’s conference in midtown Manhattan this morning, Clinton said, “I got tickled by watching Governor Perry announce for governor, for president. He’s a good looking rascal.”
* * *
“And he’s saying ‘Oh, I’m going to Washington to make sure that the federal government stays as far away from you as possible –while I ride on Air Force One and that Marine One helicopter and go to Camp David and travel around the world and have a good time.’ I mean, this is crazy.”
Says the man who parked Air Force One at Moffett Field seemingly every other weekend in the late 1990s to visit Chelsea at Stanford, and whose successor, as Victor Davis Hanson writes, “would play golf more in three years than the aristocratic Bush did in eight. Or that in recessionary times, when iconic presidential sacrifice is critical, the First Family would favor Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, and Costa del Sol over the White House grounds or Camp David.”