Yesterday, in what could be described as an otherwise sober and successful first press conference, Barack Obama made two offhanded remarks that are raising eyebrows around the blogosphere. The first:
Obama told reporters that he has turned for advice to all “living” former presidents. But he then joked, “I didn’t want to get into aabout, you know, doing any seances.” … Obama called Mrs. Reagan late Friday to apologize.
And then when discussing what kind of dog to get for his children:
“Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me,” Obama said with a smile. “So whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household.” In his first postelection, the man who will be president in just over two months described himself as a mutt as casually as he may have poked fun at his jump shot.
I have to be honest, even in jest, both these comments were a little disappointing to hear and came off as almost beneath the office– which isn’t easy after eight years of George Bush. I guarantee neither would have been said a week ago. After two years of ferociously protecting Michelle and arguing that wives should be off limits, Obama’s joke at the expense of Nancy Reagan, one of only six living first ladies, was inexplicable. Calling her to apologize was the right thing to do. And I’m all for Obama doing all he can to shed the stigma of race, but for the new president-elect to describe himself as a “mutt” strikes me as a bit careless. It’s only a matter of time before some foreign leader decides to jokingly quote Obama and finds him or herself in a world of hot water.
I realize that if Obama can’t joke around a little every now and then, it’s going to be a long, long four years. No one is expecting him to come out in a robe, smoking a pipe and quoting Shakespeare. But just because the election is over doesn’t mean he should lose the rhetorical cautiousness that got him this far and earned him the confidence of so many voters. At least not in the very first press conference.