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Friday, October 31, 2008

 
Obama And Maddow

by tristero

Rachel Maddow Interviews Barack Obama. It's a fascinating, and utterly refreshing, experience to listen to an American politician answer direct questions in a reasonably direct way. One hopes she gets a chance to sit down and talk to him many, many more times. These two are meant for each other.

The viewer interested in psychology may want to focus on the opening 3 minutes or so when both participants are clearly nervous and marking their territory. For Maddow, it's because this surely is a major "get" in her career. As for Obama, he seemed off his game at first, perhaps because he was facing potentially awkward questions from the "left," which he has hardly ever encountered, and certainly not in front of an audience as large as the one Maddow reaches. (In fact, Maddow is a liberal, hardly a leftist, at least on tv.)

But soon, the frozen grins and banter disappear - with Obama trotting through a thankfully abbreviated version of his bipartisan talking point - and they settle down to business. [UPDATE: I should add that Obama very graciously provided Maddow a nice gift; the incompetent part of the GOP quote.] Unlike many of her interviews I've seen, this wasn't a discussion, with Maddow actively expressing opinions and disputing the guest's assertions. Instead, Maddow let Obama talk in detail about issues like improving the electrical grid or chemical plant safety. She did offer Obama an opportunity to go political but for the most part, Obama skillfully sublimated the political to wonkery. The message was clear: We know that the lack of chemical plant safeguards is a "classic" case of interest group influence and there's no reason to dwell on that. How do we go about fixing it?

Obama's answers on Afghanistan/Pakistan clearly concerned Maddow (and me). He dwelled almost exclusively on the need for more American troops in Afghanistan and failed to answer her question about an exit strategy. The situation is fiendishly complex: the threat of a nightmarishly chaotic Pakistan - with Pakistan's nuclear arsenal only one of the alarming confounding variables - is very, very real. Only after a long, rambling answer on the need for more troops - the part about rotating in new people to prevent the use of stop-loss was persuasive, I thought - did Obama choose to mention diplomacy.

Clearly, a President Obama - we should be so lucky - will have to work long and hard to avoid extending the quagmire that already is Afghnaistan and make sure it isn't extended into Pakistan. I'm not sure, at present, he quite grasps the entire situation and how to approach it. I don't blame him, however. The catastrophe Bush created - with the help, of course, of Karzai, Musharraf, the Taliban, and bin Laden - is so out of control there may not be anything truly helpful to be done there for a very long time. Obama is an intelligent man, to be sure, but of all the difficult challenges he will face if he becomes president, this one may be the most intractable and dangerous.

(It goes without saying that McCain has neither the intellectual capacity nor the temperament to do anything about this disaster except make it 10 times worse. Palin? Jebus, the mind reels.)

Qua interview, this was very good work on Maddow's part. She managed both to respect her subject -clearly, both a serious person and an awesomely canny politician - and also illuminate issues where Obama's thinking is by no means as focused as it must be. Could she have been more forceful and probing? Of course, but let's not forget that Maddow has already dug far deeper into Obama's thoughts on Afghanistan/Pakistan than came out, say, in the debate questions.

UPDATE: Slightly restructured after first posting. No content added or changed.


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