I see I was not the only one watching last night’s All-Star Game who wondered if David Axelrod had negotiated the bizarre angle (there is no other word for it, if you’re a baseball-watching fan) used to showcase President Barack Obama’s ceremonial “first pitch.” I have never seen a president throw a pitch, before, where the angle left out the catcher at the plate.
Yes, I had to wonder if the shot was planned that way, if the White House was so insecure about this teleprompter-addicted president, and in such a habit of safeguarding his every image, his every press-conference question, that they had to make sure a bad throw wouldn’t end up on You Tube (and if in doing so they aren’t exposing that insecurity to the world.) If this angle was planned – and simply based on the WH’s (and the media-in-general’s) instinct toward shielding and over-promoting this president, I’m thinking it was – then I wonder if the WH is going to make this president seem increasingly remote and inhuman by editing out (or managing) his real stumbles or suspected imperfections. That can’t be a good thing.
Reuters has a better angle; you can check out for as long as it remains up.
Gateway Pundit – who was, I thought, rather rough on Obama’s appearance (even though I admit I am so weary of him being everywhere, all the time, that I muted the television while he was in the booth because I was – imagine it – trying to actually WATCH THE GAME, but I digress) – linked to the clip of President Bush throwing the first pitch at the 2001 World Series, shortly after the attacks of 9/11:
I love the clip, and I love the story that Bush recounts in the video 9 Innings from Ground Zero (which is a terrific addition to your library; a moving and inspiring encapsulation of the events of 9/11 and how Baseball helped bring America up off its knees.)
Says Bush: “Derek Jeter says to me, ‘Mr. President, you throwing from the mound?’ and I told him I hadn’t thought about it. Jeter said, ‘This is New York; you gotta throw from the mound.’ Then, as I was heading to the dugout, Jeter turned to me again and said, ‘don’t bounce it; this is New York, and they’ll boo!’”
Just weeks after a horrific and deadly attack on his nation, when all of us were still waiting for “the second shoe to drop” – for another attack – and fully aware that Yankee Stadium was at that moment the Mother of All Targets and that there uncertainty as to the president’s own safety, Bush strode out gave the thumbs up and threw unambiguously over the plate – a little high, but given some of the dubious calls we’re seeing this season, let’s call it a strike. Bush threw not to “the most popular man” in the stadium, but to a common catcher, Jorge Posada, who was behind the plate. Yes, it was a great moment.
It’s not a big deal that Obama did not manage to get the ball over the plate. Both he and President Bush are athletes, but Bush is more about baseball and Obama (as evidenced in his confusion about baseball fields) is more basketball, and there you go.
The difference between these two first pitches is not in the pitch, but in the pitchman – in the personality of the president; if you compare how each president is introduced, you find a microcosm of how each president sees himself and his presidency., and what I find most telling in those two clips is the way the president presents himself:
In 2001, Bob Shepherd at Yankee Stadium announces, “Please welcome The President of the United States.” No name. The name is not primary, it is not the most important thing; the Office is – and that is what is emphasized. What is being introduced to that event is an appearance not by a celebrity, not by a movie star – but by the President of the United States. The fellow who, in the end, represents all of us to the world. That president went out and demonstrated gravity, good-will, a sense of proportion and forthrightness. And yes, competence, too. Without excessive giddiness, the strike is thrown, the handshakes are made, and the President of the United States walks off the field; he leaves the stadium shortly after because, after all, there is an awful lot going on in America, at that moment, much of it very grave, and the American President did not do celebrity schtick. None of it was about him, and that president understood that none of it was about him, personally.
In 2009, at St. Louis, the announcement was the same – emphasis on Office not man – but this president (who we are constantly told personifies “elegance” and “dignity”) does not bring the same sense of Office about him. He’s dressed down, camera-savvy, and be brings glad-handing, a great deal of effusive hugging and playing to the cameras. He is, frankly, a star and a celebrity; as such, he shows up in the broadcast booth for a while, to comment on the game and joke around; it’s hard to know if he thinks things are all about him, or not, of it he’s just “glad-handing” America – using a charm offensive as misdirection.
There is an awful lot going on in America, at the moment, much of it very grave, but this President does a great deal of celebrity schtick. At the ballgame, at the WH martini party, on the Jay Leno show. Smile, and smile, and bring seriously troubling people like this into your administration, as “czars” unquestioned by congress, unanswerable to anyone but you, and certainly not to the American people.
Smile and smile and muscle through a voluminous, unread, undebated, economically unsound and nation-transforming legislation without really telling the nation what it costs or even what is in that legislation, or how it will effect small businesses and jobs in the country, or what the bureaucracy will look like.
Smile and smile and disrespect democracies surrounded by threats.
Smile and smile, and – if you know your Hamlet, you know where I’m going. And I really don’t want to go there. I don’t want to be that person.
Still, since we’re thinking of Hamlet, one can’t help looking at those two clips and thinking of the differences between King Hamlet and King Claudius, and recalling:
a combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
For the record, I don’t like booing presidents. I think it’s bad form, regardless of who is in power. But I do think the press – who highlighted boos directed at Cheney later in the administration – should pay attention to what they’re hearing in these crowds and at tea parties. Our media are overpopulated with smug elitists, increasingly detached from the realities of life faced by the rest of the country, and – since they skew their own polls – from what people are really thinking. They won’t like it when they are caught off-guard, sometime down the road. By then, of course, they may all be as insulated from the effect of their arrogance as is the president they currently shield and endlessly hype.