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A Less Than Optimal Campaign

What a sorry state of affairs for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign when he can’t even go on the Daily Show without feeding another bad news cycle.

In the latest of a series of missteps, the president appeared Thursday on Jon Stewart’s cable television comedy program and described the murder of four Americans during a Sept. 11 terror attack on the embassy in Libya as “not optimal.” The jarring understatement will likely be replayed on various other media, and repeatedly at the conservative outlets, which can’t be helpful to Obama’s cause.

The president’s many die-hard defenders will note that the questioner had introduced the term “optimal,” a slightly mitigating point, but it won’t spare him another day of damning headlines nor spare him the damage of the sound bite. Combined with the widely reported fact that Obama embarked on a fund-raising trip to Las Vegas in the immediate aftermath of the murders, the president’s description of the terror attack as a “bump in the road” during a later interview, and his many week’s of dissembling about the true nature of the incident, the latest statement is likely to bolster an ever more widely held impression that the president’s sympathy for the victims is, well, less than optimal.

Nor is the president in any position to complain that his critics are harping on a mere choice of words, having spent much of the day on harping on Mitt Romney’s brief mention during Tuesday’s debate of considering “binders full of women” while hiring workers during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. The president seemed to find this a most hilarious misstatement during Thursday’s stump speeching, as did several of the commentators at the friendlier cable news services, but after a day’s consideration we’re still unable to find exactly what’s wrong with Romney’s boast.

In a speech to a typically sycophantic crowd the president said that he doesn’t have to resort to binders to find qualified women to work for his administration, presumably because the resumes and background checks and other necessary paperwork are delivered on silver platters or some other such conveyance, but that only attests to Romney’s relative frugality. The tactic also provided unfriendly media such as this to remind readers that Obama’s White House has been described by a woman there as a “hostile workplace” and has a history of paying its women employees less than their male counterparts, and it’s unlikely that voters concerned with the dire state of the economy and the growing dangers of the international scene will agree that Romney’s admirable desire to find qualified women workers, through binders or any other means, are a more significant matter.

Let us hope that many voters will also be slightly irked by a reminder that Obama was appearing on the Daily Show. The appearance was in keeping with the president’s preference for presenting himself mainly on such lightweight programs as The View, Entertainment Tonight, and, as we never tire of mentioning, the Pimp With a Limp’s radio show. This schedule has solidified Obama’s standing as Celebrity in Chief, a title that probably impresses many people who won’t bother to find their way to the voting places, and while that might diminish his stature with the more serious-minded it usually has the compensating advantage of shielding the president from tough questions.

Stewart’s more awe-struck fans will insist that he’s a serious satirist in the tradition of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, and an influential conduit of the news to today’s youth, but he’s basically a guy who makes funny faces into the camera and flatters the pretensions of his slacker audience with sneers and snarkiness, and Obama had every reason to expect the usual gentle treatment. Indeed, Stewart’s unfortunate choice of the word “optimal” was seemingly intended to euphemize the situation as much as possible, making it all the more embarrassing that Obama was somehow able to turn it into a snippet for an upcoming Romney ad.

Tuesday’s debate was supposed to be the turning point for Obama’s recently besieged campaign, but all they got out of it was the futile efforts to exploit Romney’s binders, and more harm from the ongoing Libyan fiasco. One word won’t change the campaign, whether it’s “optimal” or “binders,” but there seems to be a cumulative effect of Obama’s self-inflicted wounds.

— Bud Norman

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