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President of cool keeps calm

news | 17:22 UK time, Sunday, 20 September 2009

"If you're civil ... you're not going to be on the loop" . Well, some people will be, and will be today. The remark was made by President Obama in his Sunday morning TV blitz, with interviews on five channels, musing on the heat and passion generated by a 24-hour news cycle. He said that it wasn't the sensible people who talked deliberately about the options for the country (in health care) who had got the coverage in the last week. His conclusion was that "the easiest way of getting 15 minutes of fame is to be rude".

It seems I was wrong earlier in the week when I suggested there must be one big soundbite, one big theme the White House wanted to get out there. The president politely and thoughtfully answered questions on health care, race, Afghanistan, missile defence, CIA interrogation and North Korea without saying anything new or attention grabbing.

If there was a message, it was about tone. Opinion polls seem to show that whatever people think of his policies, people like the president. His calm and thoughtful manner, the impression that he will look at a picture in the round, rather than make a knee-jerk judgement, seems to go down well. This interview showed him as almost professorial, like a distinguished figure from a think-tank, compared with the Obama who roused the troops when he talked to the unions, or indeed when he addressed Congress. The message is that Obama is still keeping his cool, and sticking to long-term goals.

One of the most fascinating things about covering this administration is going to be seeing whether they can achieve their aim rise above the 24-hour news cycle, what Tony Blair's spin doctors called "froth" and "process". They believe that the majority of Americans are in the middle, only casual viewers of the stuff that is meat and drink to me and my colleagues. It seems to me that the problem for them is that if the president can remain focused on strategy, aloof from the day-to-day battles, he still has to have foot soldiers who can slug it out on a tactical level. Otherwise his opponents give the impression that they are winning, and in a 24-hour media cycle perception becomes reality and they do take more ground day by day.


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