RachelWatch: President’s Question Time


Today: Rachel breaks down President Obama’s Q&A session with the GOP

Friday night was something special as Rachel and Keith Olbermann pooled their show-having resources to give thorough analysis to President Obama’s live on-camera question-and-answer session at the Republican Congressional policy retreat on Friday afternoon.

Initially, only Obama’s speech was to be televised, but then the Republicans agreed to the White House’s request to keep the cameras rolling, leaving pundits across the nation wondering why.

True story: When I first moved to Chicago years ago, I took a job bartending at the hotel where the guests for The Jerry Springer Show stayed. Contrary to popular belief, they were not paid. Most of the staff thought that the guests put themselves through the (Sp)wringer just for the plane ticket, a night in a hotel, and a single meal voucher.

But when one talked to them, it became clear that almost all of them believed deep in their hearts that once they told their stories on television, they would come off looking good. Not just good – beautiful and special. Even the ones who had done objectively awful things. They all thought that once people really had a chance to see and understand them, they would be widely beloved.

I think that’s the real reason the Springers, as we called them, did the show, and I think it may go a long way toward explaining why the Republicans kept the cameras rolling on Friday.

Because Lord knows there wasn’t any rational reason.

Pence for Your Thoughts

Keith Olbermann helmed the first half, with Rachel (and a very careful Chris Matthews) helping out with the analysis.

Rachel noted that Obama showed some fight and, in the hopes of increasing the political cost of obstructionism, made overt pleas for the Republicans to join him in hammering things out. She also pegged Obama’s first response to conference chair Congressman Mike Pence (R – Indiana) as the moment viewers first started to taste the awesome.

Obama continued his response to Pence by suggesting that Congressmen who like keeping their police, teachers, and firefighters could maybe take it down a notch about the stimulus package. And when he pointed out that several Representatives in the room had attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for stimulus projects they’d voted against, I half-expected to hear a round of pundits going “Ooooooh!” like a sitcom audience.

Obama also explained that you don’t get to demand across-the-board tax cuts and a balanced budget and stay in the mathematics of the current universe, which is probably the part where Representative Virginia Foxx (R – North Carolina, 1863) decided that the President was “lecturing”.

Wasteful Spending is Usually Spent Outside Your District

Next up, Representative Paul Ryan (R – Wisconsin) got dreamy about the Bush tax cuts and was all about freezing the Benjamins.

All three pundits pronounced the President “Clintonian” in his terrifying ability to call up facts and bat back questions on any topic, and Rachel was of course happy that Obama had done his homework by talking to Peter Orszag before the session.

I think Rachel’s “Read” poster for the American Library Association doesn’t go far enough. She should do one that says “Geek.”

Is it OK if I Go Ahead and Ask One Million Questions?

Freshman Representative Jason Chaffetz (R – Utah), stood up and said, deeply hurt, that agreeing to vote “no” on everything was not being obstructionist and how could anyone even say such a thing?

Chaffetz then explained that Obama had broken his idealistic heart in two by not finger-shackling every last member of Congress to keep them from writing earmarks into bills and thus Chaffetz didn’t know if he’d ever be able to trust again.

The President took responsibility for the fact that the final volley of the health care process hasn’t been televised, but did give a nod to the kazillion hours on C-SPAN before that. He then suggested that one could perhaps use one’s own Congressional committees to stop earmarks, but didn’t end it by calling Chaffetz “frosh,” in spite of all my silent willing him to do so.

That’s Just Embarrassing

Rachel and friends finished off the hour with a CNN-MSNBC-Fox triplecast comparison so they could show when Fox News got all huffy and red and cut away from the intellectual bloodbath. The pundits then moved into the second, Rachel-helmed hour with a sense that Obama had helped the Democrats get their mojo back.

Democrats: Put your mojo somewhere safe this time!

Bursting with Ideas

Rachel took over for the second hour, just in time for Representative Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennesee) to put on her best Disappointed Schoolmarm voice and wonder why the Democrats had not been paying attention to the Republicans’ thousands of practical ideas on how to reform health care.

Which, according to Blackburn, they’ve been eager to talk about. It’s just that they’ve been all shy and needed someone to reach out to them.

Speaking of people who have their mojo back, Chris Matthews nailed Blackburn’s premise pretty firmly to the wall.

Also Bursting with Solutions

Rachel led us into the “most sarcastic question of the day,” from Representative Tom Price (R – Georgia): “What should we tell our constituents who know that we’ve offered these solutions and yet hear from the administration that we’ve offered nothing?”

In response, the President suggested that Republican health care solutions should not depend quite so heavily on pixie dust.

Land of Lincoln, I’ve Been Thinkin’

Congressman Peter Roskam (R – Illinois), who had worked with Obama back when they were both Illinois state senators, asked where the old roll-up-his-sleeves-and-work-with-the-opposition Barack Obama he knew and loved was.

I guess Roskam was too busy during the endless months of debate over healthcare to notice liberals screaming and whamming their heads into walls and begging Obama and the Democratic leadership to stop trying for an impossible, weakened bipartisan bill and just steamroller the damn thing.

Obama got candid and said that our elected representatives should be careful about political theater when there’s a danger of people actually believing it.

Maybe they could wear heavy stage makeup to let us know when it’s fake? I think Boehner may have already started. That would explain a lot.

“At some point, I know you’re going to let me answer.”

The President’s last exchange was with Congressman Jeb Henserling (R –Texas), and it was fantastic. Obama is often accused of being Spockian in his love of coolheaded logic, so it’s sort of exhilarating to see his pissed-off face.

Rachel jumped in to fact check both sides and could not have been more delighted to do so.


Rachel joined with her fellow pundits to start talking about how the politics of all this will shake out. She pointed out that politics isn’t usually about real, thoughtful discussion, and that such discussion tends to favor the current President.

And then she suggested that Republicans may have learned on Friday that their best bet during the Obama administration is to keep politics shallow and maybe even dumber.

Oh, dear.

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