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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

First lady Michelle Obama waves as she appears at the podium for a camera test on the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 3. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Michelle Obama's challenge: persuade voters not to fire her husband

By Staff Writer / 09.04.12

When it comes to spousal speeches, Michelle Obama unquestionably has the harder task.

At the Republican National Convention last week, Ann Romney’s main objective was to “humanize” her husband, most pundits agreed. Given that Mitt Romney’s low likability ratings are his biggest electoral hurdle, this was seen as a critical task, but not necessarily a difficult one. All Mrs. Romney really needed to do was give voters a warm and fuzzy glimpse of her husband’s character, telling them about his role as a spouse and father, the businessman who worked tirelessly to build a company, the good Samaritan who quietly helped countless others behind the scenes.

Some commentators griped that she could have done more, but her delivery was heartfelt and appealing, and the speech may have helped some feel better about Mr. Romney personally, and more drawn to the Romney family.

By contrast, Mrs. Obama has to persuade voters essentially not to fire her husband. She, too, may tell the public some heartwarming stories about the president – who, polls show, is far more widely liked on a personal level than Romney. But her primary task will be to defend his policies and sell his vision for the future. And that presents a tricky balancing act.

For one thing, current economic conditions make it hard to claim a record of success without sounding out of touch. Complicating things further is the fact that Americans tend to like their first ladies better when they stay away from politics and policy. Notably, Mrs. Obama was seen as a more polarizing figure during the 2008 campaign (when she made an unfortunate remark about being proud of her country for the first time in her adult life). But since entering the White House, she has been far more disciplined in her public remarks, while championing largely non-controversial issues like childhood obesity – and her popularity ratings have soared. 

According to The Associated Press, some of the accomplishments Mrs. Obama will specifically highlight in her speech include the equal-pay legislation the president signed into law known as the Lilly Ledbetter Act – as well as the landmark health-care law. Given the latter’s controversy, Mrs. Obama's challenge there will be to make the case for its benefits without seeming divisive or overly political.

Other first ladies have faced similar challenges. In 2004, Laura Bush said she wanted to “answer the question that I believe many people would ask me if we sat down for a cup of coffee or ran into each other at the store: You know him better than anyone, you've seen things no one else has seen, why do you think we should re-elect your husband as president?”

Mrs. Bush, whose 2004 convention speech was a departure from her typically non-political persona, went on to defend her husband’s signature education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, along with the Bush tax cuts, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and funding for stem cell research. Nor did she shy away from what was arguably the most controversial decision her husband made in office: invading Iraq.

“I remember an intense weekend at Camp David,” she recounted. “George and Prime Minister Tony Blair were discussing the threat from Saddam Hussein. And I remember sitting in the window of the White House, watching as my husband walked on the lawn below. I knew he was wrestling with these agonizing decisions that would have such profound consequence for so many lives and for the future of our world.”

It’s hard to know just how pivotal Mrs. Bush’s speech ultimately was. But President Bush got a bump in the polls coming out of the GOP convention – and from that point on, was able to sustain a lead (barely) all the way to Election Day.

If Mrs. Obama can offer a similarly sympathetic behind-the-scenes perspective on her husband’s most consequential (and controversial) decisions – without damaging her own popularity in the process – it could offer a critical boost.

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Actress Betty White reacts to applause during a ceremony where she was named an Honorary Forest Ranger by the US Forest Service at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Nov. 9, 2010. White has stated in numerous interviews that her first ambition as a young girl was 'to become a forest ranger, but they didn't allow women to do that back then.' (Cliff Owen/AP/File)

Betty White: Would she improve the Democratic convention? (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.04.12

Would Betty White make the Democratic National Convention better? Lots of people think so. Or at least, lots of people who’ve signed Peter Slutsky’s Change.org petition to add Ms. White to the DNC proceedings think so.

Mr. Slutsky says that Clint Eastwood’s rambling, heavily-panned appearance at the Republican National Convention gave a “bad name” to older Americans, and that the former star of “Golden Girls” could restore their honor.

“Governor Romney can have Clint Eastwood and his improvisational skills because President Obama has the only and only Betty White!” writes Slutsky.

At the moment the petition has over 8,000 supporters. Over at Facebook, White is doing even better. A “Bring Betty White to the DNC” page has over 28,000 “likes.”

First off, we’d like to say that it might be time to stop the Eastwood-hating. That was a week ago, which is an era in political time, and in any case there are people who argue that the whole thing was a lot better than the MSM supposes.

There’s this post at the conservative site Hot Air!, for instance, which argues that Eastwood “was not ‘rambling.’ He improvised within a structure, making a clear and concise case for dumping Obama.”

Still, wouldn’t it be great to see Betty White, say, introduce Michelle Obama? Though they’d have to move fast to do that because Mrs. Obama is speaking Tuesday. Maybe she could introduce Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday. That might be even better – can’t you just imagine the on-stage electricity they could generate? She could play off his recent controversial remark about “put y’all back in chains.” No, we won’t elaborate.

Ms. White is up to the job – she’s still working in the sitcom “Hot in Cleveland,” after all – and it looks like she’s a Democrat. She visited Obama in the Oval Office in June. Obama had taped a video that appeared earlier in the year at White’s 90th birthday party. He insisted that she produce her long-form birth certificate to prove her age. Meta!

Other ways White could improve the convention: She could bring an empty chair on stage and pretend to harangue Clint Eastwood. She could put on a headset and get a video crew and roam the halls beaming back spot delegate reports. She could stage a coup at Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” stage in Charlotte and take over his show.

Got your own ideas? Discuss among yourselves in comments.

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First lady Michelle Obama talks with actor and Obama administration official Kal Penn, the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, as she tours the stage a day before her speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday. (Jim Young/REUTERS/File)

Obama taps Kal Penn of 'Harold & Kumar' for convention. Is that wise? (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.04.12

As the Democratic National Convention opens President Obama has a new online ad out that features John Cho and Kal Penn, the actors who’ve portrayed the stoner characters Harold and Kumar in a series of popular films.

What, you’ve never seen “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas”?

Anyway, the spot opens with a serious president making what seems to be a serious phone call. “Hey this is Barack,” Mr. Obama says after the unseen party on the other end picks up. “Listen, I need to know if you’re on board.”

Dramatic music begins to swell in the background. “I’m counting on you. Everybody is,” Obama continues. “We have to get this right there’s a lot at stake here. Just remember that I’m trusting you on this, and I’ll see you there.”

Swipe cut to Harold and Kumar’s litter-strewn living room, where they’re watching cartoons on TV. Kumar, quite, uh, out of it, slowly hangs up the phone.

“Who was that? It sounded intense,” says Harold.

“The president,” says Kumar.

“Sweet,” says Harold, with all the emotional intensity of a zombie.

Then something on the TV screen goes “boing,” the actors laugh at the cartoon, and the ad cuts away to a promotion of the campaign’s live stream of DNC events, which Kal Penn is going to host.

OK, is this really a good idea? Two guys whose most popular roles involve large amounts of illegal drug usage, hooked up with the Obama campaign?

If nothing else it provides an opening for Republicans to raise anew the issue of the president’s own admitted youthful pot usage. And they have. Conservatives say it highlight’s Obama’s “Choom Gang” past, in which he and his friends in Hawaii would drive up into the hills and smoke pot in their cars, according to biographer David Maraniss.

“Who knows, perhaps Obama is hearkening back to the days in his youth when he would sit around blowing ‘smoke rings’ and getting high without a care in the world by tapping the undynamic duo of the current generation as a hook for his speech accepting the Democratic nomination on Thursday night, writes John Rossomando on Red Alert Politics, a website aimed at young conservatives.

Well, we can think of a number of reasons why Obama might do this. First off, Kal Penn works for the Obama administration. He’s been an associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement since 2009. As such, he’s traveled the country selling Obama’s policies to various groups. He’s taken leave to appear in a Harold & Kumar sequel as well as the TV sitcom "How I Met Your Mother."

Second, do we have to point out the generational divide here between Kal Penn and Clint Eastwood? The latter was the RNC’s surprise speaker, and whatever you think of his performance, he appeals to an older demographic than does Penn. The Obama team tries to make its guy look as young and hip as possible, via “slow-jamming” the news on Jimmy Fallon and so forth, and this feeds that effort.

Third, Obama’s been criticized by some liberals for cracking down on medicinal pot dispensaries and in general enforcing the war on drugs. This might be a sly way of winking at those critics. Or something like that.

Anyway, the best part of the ad is that now people will probably compete on Twitter to see who can dream up the best Harold & Kumar policy movie title. “Harold & Kumar Visit an Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Exchange,” anyone?

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San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (l.), who will be the convention keynote speaker, and his twin brother, State Representative Joaquin Castro, who is running for U.S. Congress, are interviewed at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Monday. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Is Julian Castro the Democrats' Marco Rubio? (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.04.12

Who is Julian Castro? He’s the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and tonight’s keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, that’s who.

He’ll be the first Hispanic to ever deliver the DNC keynote. Democrats think he’s popular enough to rise to Lone Star State governor, or even higher office. He’s got a compelling personal story – he was raised by a strong single mom who was herself politically active. He’s got an identical twin brother who represents San Antonio in the state legislature and is likely to be elected to Congress in November.

He’s young, only 37, and has risen fast. Sound like anyone else? Yes, that’s what we thought too – he’s the Democrats' answer to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Except Senator Rubio’s not an identical twin.

Rubio did well for himself in Tampa, Fla., with a speech that some political analysts think may have set him apart from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and other non-Romney party heavyweights. Mr. Castro’s not at Rubio’s level yet in the sense that nobody’s talking about him as a potential 2016 nominee. But in giving the San Antonio mayor the keynote speech, Democrats may be trying to broaden their bench of nationally known figures, while attempting to woo the Hispanic vote. A twofer.

Castro's father and mother split up when he was eight. He and twin sibling Joaquin were raised by their mom, Maria “Rosie” Castro, who was an organizer in the Texas Mexican-American community in the 1970s. Her activities drew hate mail and even the interest of the Justice Department.

But today Castro says it was his mom and others like her who broke barriers, allowing Hispanics like him to have a political future.

“It was very warranted at that time,” he told the Associated Press. “You had a huge dropout rate. You had signs that said, ‘No Mexicans or dogs allowed.’ It was a movement born out of both aspiration and frustration, it was very understandable. And ultimately, I believe, [it] helped move this country forward.”

His mom emphasized grades as well, paying for high marks. That paid off – Castro went to Stanford and Harvard Law. He’s the youngest person ever elected to the San Antonio City Council, where he won a seat in 2001. He lost a try for the mayor’s seat in 2005, then came back to win on his second try, in 2009. He was reelected in 2011.

He’s a nonpartisan office holder in a city manager form of government, notes the Dallas Morning News today in a good piece on his background. Castro “brings a life of contrasts” into his keynote address, writes the Dallas paper’s Robert T. Garrett. He’s a shy politician, a red state Democrat, and so on.

“Castro is hyped as a future statewide or even national candidate despite his short resume. The mayor, though, has dug in to solve problems at the local level for most of a decade – and plans to stay there for a while,” writes Mr. Garrett.

Republicans, though, say that they’ve seen this movie before – in 2004, when the young and unknown Barack Obama got the chance to boost his national profile by delivering a DNC keynote.

Conservatives criticize the choice of Castro by saying he’s done little to actually merit an appearance hundreds of more experienced politicians would love to make.

“It is kind of creepy to see just how many hurrahs and hosannas a politician [can] generate without actually doing much of anything, particularly on bread-and-butter issues like crime and education. If a Castro defender wants to argue he’s only been in office three years, fine ... but that just raises the question of why an unaccomplished mayor is giving the keynote address. It’s like watching the Obama playbook from 2004 all over again,” writes the National Review’s Jim Geraghty in his The Campaign Spot blog.

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Volunteer Jennifer Fields (R) helps direct a party delegate as she arrives in advance of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Hey, Clintons, why such bad Democratic convention seats for Arkansas? (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.03.12

Why do the Arkansas delegates have such bad seats at the 2012 Democratic National Convention?

That’s the first question that came to mind Monday morning while we were perusing the seating map for Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., the host city. Arkansas, the state that produced the last Democrat who won reelection to the White House,  doesn’t just have a bad location; the Arkansans have the worst seats in the place. They’re at the very back, in the middle of the arena, half-wedged behind a camera platform. Some of them might need periscopes to see the action at all.

OK, Arkansas is a red state now, likely to fall to GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Plus, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her ex-presidential spouse haven’t lived there for years. But their current state, New York, is a blue leaner, big, and a crucial building block for any Democrat looking to put together an Electoral College victory. And New York’s seats are not fantastic. They’re right next to Arkansas in the back. Their only advantage is that they’re not behind the camera platform.

Is President Obama trying to send the Big Dog a subtle message? Illinois, Mr. Obama’s home, has the best front-and-center seats in the arena. Well, it’s easy to overthink this, so it’s probably just due to the fact that the Razorback delegation is a small group that hails from Romney territory. But still. We wouldn’t take the risk of maybe offending someone who’s giving a key speech. We’d at least have cleared it with him. (Of course, maybe Team Obama did.)

Other than that, the seating’s pretty much what you’d expect. Key swing states are up front – we’re looking at you, Ohio. Illinois shares the front row with host state North Carolina and Delaware. (Joe Biden is from Delaware, in case you’re scratching your head.)

Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida – they’re all swing states, and their delegates are all close enough to the podium to actually see what’s going on.

In the back, Arizona, home of 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain, has perhaps the next-worst seats to Arkansas'. They’re on the other side of the camera cluster. The District of Columbia is stuck back there, too. So is New Jersey. Are Jersey Democrats getting hurt because of subliminal anger at Gov. Chris Christie?

Of course, the real Democratic seating problem isn’t inside the Time Warner Cable Arena. It’s over at Bank of America Stadium, a 74,000-seat football venue where Obama is scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech.

Given that voter enthusiasm is down among Democrats, some Democratic officials have worried about filling that cavernous space. Empty seats wouldn’t look good for the cameras.

According to the Associated Press, the DNC is going to bring in college students from the region by the busload. They’re also recruiting members of predominantly African-American churches.

“The response we’ve seen from the community has been incredible and it’s obvious that people have a big interest in owning a piece of the most open and accessible convention in history,” campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher told the AP.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. (David Goldman/AP)

Was Mitt Romney's convention speech really a dud? (+video)

By Staff writer / 09.03.12

Was Mitt Romney’s GOP convention speech a dud? That’s what a new Gallup poll appears to indicate. The just-released survey shows that Mr. Romney’s Thursday night address scored low compared with previous such speeches.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents rated Romney’s big moment as “excellent” or “good,” according to Gallup. Thirty-seven percent judged it “OK,” “poor,” or “terrible.”

That’s “the lowest rating of any of the eight speeches Gallup has tested since Bob Dole’s GOP acceptance speech in 1996,” according to Gallup editor Frank Newport.

Plus, the Republican National Convention as a whole didn’t sway many voters, according to Gallup. Forty percent of respondents said it would make them “more likely” to mark their ballots for Romney, while 38 percent said it would make them “less likely” to vote GOP.

Well, we’ve got a couple of comments here. The first is that one poll does not a trend make, even if it’s from a pollster as respected as Gallup. Other surveys indicate that Romney got at least a modest bounce out of his nominating convention in Tampa, Fla. Rasmussen Reports’ daily tracking poll now gives Romney a 48 percent to 44 percent lead over President Obama. That’s about a six-point gain for the GOP nominee over the past week.

Second, self-reported voting intentions – saying something will make you more or less likely to cast your ballot a certain way – is an imprecise measure of election outcomes. Lots of things affect an individual’s vote. In retrospect, it’s often hard to single out a particular event as the moment that pushed a voter one way or another. Events that seemed important at the time can fade by November.

Third, the real effect of the GOP convention can’t be measured until after this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. It’s possible that Mr. Obama may not get even a modest boost from the event – and it’s possible that he’ll end up with polls showing him a consensus leader.

If the race remains roughly tied, or with only a percentage point or two separating the contenders. Romney might be able to claim that he did better out of the conventions than the incumbent did, writes New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver on Monday.

Romney’s bounce “may turn out to be ‘just fine’ once we see a few more polls, and how the numbers move after Charlotte,” writes Mr. Silver.

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Actor Clint Eastwood talks to an empty chair during his address to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange? (+video)

By Staff writer / 08.31.12

It’s the day after the Republican National Convention, where Mitt Romney finally grasped his long-term goal of the GOP presidential nomination, so of course the question that’s roiling the American political world today is this: Was there something wrong with Clint Eastwood?

Movie icon Eastwood was the “mystery speaker” on the convention’s final night, in case you haven’t heard. He was on-stage at the top of the hour prior to Romney’s long-awaited acceptance speech. Convention planners probably expected he’d deliver a short, growling quasi-commercial composed of references to his past movies. You know, “Turn Obama every which way but loose!” and stuff like that.

Instead he delivered a rambling monologue to an empty chair that represented Obama himself. (“InvisibleObama” already has its own Twitter feed.) He talked about unfilled promises, and how Obama had many of them, and whether lawyers should even be president. He brought up Oprah Winfrey. He drew his finger across his throat in a reference to “having to let people go.” He pretended that the unseen president in the chair was mouthing obscenities.

To be charitable, it was unique. That’s the word the Romney camp is going with. Ann Romney told CBS News this morning that Eastwood “is a unique guy and he did a unique thing.”

It's possible that Eastwood's evident emotion appealed to independent voters who have previously judged Romney too stiff.

But lots of other people would use a descriptor other than "unique" for Eastwood's approach. “Bizarre,” maybe. “Disjointed.” “Unfathomable.” “Worst performance since last Michael Moore movie.”

“It was entertaining, but it was weird,” wrote conservative Erick Erickson on his RedState blog, going on to defend the speech as an “unscripted conversation of an independent voter coming to terms with the end of the Obama love affair.”

Then there were the really negative reviews.

“Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic,” tweeted movie critic and Twitter star Roger Ebert as Eastwood spoke.

Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza judged Eastwood the biggest loser of the night.

“For a night in which the undercard leading up to the primetime speakers was the best of the three nights, Eastwood was a totally unnecessary distraction that had to leave the Romney convention planners grimacing,” he wrote.

“Kooky, long-winded,” said CBS News – in a news story.

Look, here’s our reaction to Eastwood making the Obama campaign's day:

First, this makes screenwriters look good, doesn’t it? You thought those actors just spoke that way from the heart. No, they’re speaking lines, and this shows what happens when they make up their own.

Second, somebody in the Romney camp is going to get their rear handed to them by the candidate, if they haven’t already. Conventions are supposed to be tightly scripted. This is why. It is hard to believe that Eastwood walked on stage without prior approval of his talk, but it appears that’s just what happened.

Third, so what? It’s true that commentary on Twitter about Eastwood’s speech is swamping references to Romney, but tweets are no guide to electoral results. The Eastwood speech, like “Etch-A-Sketch,” Obama’s statement that the private sector is doing fine, Romney’s dressage horse, and so on, will matter little in the context of such fundamentals as the jobless rate and consumer confidence.

It was fun, though. “It wasn’t something to like or dislike; it was just something to appreciate, and marvel at, and to remember to thank television, in its twilight years, for all the great moments it’s given us,” wrote Jonathan Bernstein on his A Plain Blog About Politics.

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Supporters of President Obama cheer as he walks on stage to speak at a campaign event on Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va. On the same day, he connected with some 200,000 visitors in a debut appearance on the social forum Reddit. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

President Obama on Reddit: Just a stunt?

By Staff writer / 08.30.12

President Obama made a surprise appearance on an “Ask Me Anything” session on the social forum Reddit yesterday, delighting Redditors by fielding questions on a wide variety of topics, from the difficulties of handling school loans to how he balances his work and family time.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors crowded onto the site, crashing it for a time. To some in the tech world, the visit was a coming-out party for such Internet platforms, a moment that showed they have the power to create news, not just aggregate it.

“Just as Oprah joining Twitter was seen as a turning point for that service, the President participating on Reddit is a breakthrough for the service,” writes Christina Warren on the Web news site Mashable.

Well, we’d agree it was a great thing for Reddit, per se. It shined lots of attention on its interesting AMA section and gives a boost to its overall brand.

Plus, it was a good move for the White House. As Ms. Warren notes, there were over 200,000 visitors on the site watching the event live yesterday at around 4:30 p.m. That’s a pretty big audience, and probably more than were watching the GOP convention at that moment. Political counterprogramming! It’s what’s for afternoon tea.

So does it matter that Mr. Obama said virtually nothing new? He answered 10 questions, most of them blandly. He agreed that it’s hard to repay college loans in a down economy, said he supports the space program, and acknowledged that his hardest decision as president was approving the surge in Afghanistan.

His favorite basketball player? Michael Jordan. The White House beer recipe? It’s coming out soon. (OK, as far as we can tell that last one might have been new news, as we in the MSM say.)

Let’s try and figure this out – the Reddit appearance did not provide the US public much additional information about Obama policies. But it was important because it was on Reddit? Is that what Marshall McLuhan meant with the phrase “the medium is the message”?

We’d agree with The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal on this one – there was nothing revealed in Obama’s Reddit answers that would have interested any Redditor if had appeared on another format.

Plus, as Mr. Madrigal notes, the Reddit AMA is a terrible means for extracting information from a politician. They get to sit behind a desk, choose what questions they want to answer, formulate their answers in private, and then push “enter.” That sounds a whole lot easier than holding a White House press conference.

“We’ll know Reddit has really arrived as a political community when [Obama] uses a visit to announce a policy change they’ve been promoting, perhaps around marijuana policy or civil liberties broadly construed. Until then, it’s all kissing babies and shaking hands, only with more LOLs,” writes Madrigal.

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University of Virginia students and supporters cheer President Obama during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday. He targeted the same demographic with a Reddit appearance the same day. (Steve Helber/AP)

Why did President Obama do a Reddit 'Ask Me Anything'?

By Staff writer / 08.29.12

President Obama made a surprise appearance on a popular Internet social forum today, popping up on Reddit to take questions from users via a forum known as Ask Me Anything, or AMA.

Reddit users were at first astounded that the president of the United States had landed in their midst. After site administrators confirmed that the person with the username “President Obama” was in fact POTUS, all heck broke loose.

Questions poured forth, from serious inquiries about how to handle college debt in a down economy, to the identity of Mr. Obama’s favorite toothpaste and his attitude towards (the late rock star) Freddy Mercury and (current actor) Neil Patrick Harris.

Users get to pick their questions in AMA, so the silly stuff went unanswered. Among other things, Obama told Reddit that his toughest decision as president had been the approval of the surge of troops into Afghanistan.

“The decision did help us blunt the Taliban’s momentum, and is allowing us to transition to Afghan lead.... But knowing of the heroes that have fallen is something you never forget,” wrote Obama.

Answering a query about the dangers of money in politics, Obama opined that the flood of cash from "super political-action committees" threatens to drown out the voices of “ordinary citizens.” He said that over the longer term the US might need to mobilize a “constitutional amendment process” to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

He came out in favor of space exploration and Internet freedom without explaining exactly what he meant in either case, noted that Michael Jordan is his favorite basketball player, and, in breaking news, said that the recipe used for White House-brewed beer will soon be released.

He closed by answering a question about life balance, saying that it’s hard when you have presidential responsibilities, but at least his commute is short.

“By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience – NOT BAD!” he concluded.

Why did Obama take the time to answer a few general questions in this manner? Gee, you don’t think it had anything to do with counterprogramming the GOP convention, do you?

The Reddit session will allow Obama to break through the coverage of the GOP in a crucial segment of voters – young, electronically-connected – in which Democrats need to do well in the fall.

Plus, of course he enjoyed the Reddit question experience. Would you rather answer questions shouted at you by the White House press corps in a mass session, or pick what you want to answer in a quiet room and then peck away on a laptop?

The whole thing is another example of how the Obama administration in particular, and politicians in general, are increasingly bypassing the established channels of the mainstream media to find new and less-filtered ways of getting out their message.

It’s no accident that Obama this week also gave an interview to Glamour Magazine. First Lady Michelle Obama is set to appear on David Letterman’s show tonight. The MSM doesn’t like it. But in the new wired world the old rules are changing, and establishment Washington reporters don’t have the leverage they once did.

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Ann Romney is greeted on stage by her husband, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, after her speech to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Did Juan Williams go too far by slamming Ann Romney as 'corporate wife'?

By Staff writer / 08.29.12

Juan Williams is drawing a lot of heat for calling Ann Romney a “corporate wife." The Fox News commentator made the remark after watching Mrs. Romney’s generally well-received speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.,  on Tuesday night.

“The stories she told about struggles, it’s hard for me to believe,” said Mr. Williams in the midst of a Fox panel discussion. “She’s a very rich woman. I know that and America knows that.”

Asked what he meant by calling the wife of the GOP nominee “corporate,” Williams continued by saying she “looks like a woman whose husband takes care of her, and she’s been very lucky and blessed in this life. She’s not speaking for the tremendous number of single women, or married women, or separated. She did not convince me that, ‘You know what, I understand the struggles of American women in general.’ ”

Hmmm. We’ll say this in Williams’ defense – it’s hard to have an instant and profound opinion about every political event you see, and doubly hard if you know that opinion is being televised. It would have been one thing if he’d simply said that he did not believe Romney’s speech would sway many votes, or that struggling single moms might not relate to her.

But the “corporate wife” label, the “husband takes care of her” judgment – that’s going further. Those assertions are going to drive some people nuts.

Conservatives were quick to pounce on the implication that the spouses of business executives tend to be pampered automata. Maybe that subtle denigration would make sense if Mitt Romney had divorced Mrs. Romney and married a younger trophy spouse, writes editor Ed Morrissey on the conservative Hot Air! website. But Romney has been by her husband’s side from the beginning of his career.

“Maybe Juan Williams needs to start listening with his ears rather than his agenda,” writes Mr. Morrissey.

Commentator Michelle Malkin was even more pointed. “Ann Romney = Class,” she tweeted. “Juan Williams = [rhyming expletive]."

Democrats, of course, have long portrayed the GOP candidate himself as a rich buy-out artist who doesn’t care about the troubles of everyday folks. And there’s evidence that US public agrees with this depiction: Mr. Romney’s favorable numbers are very low for a major party nominee. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that only 35 percent of US adults have a favorable view of Romney, with 51 percent holding an unfavorable view.

But Mrs. Romney polls better, to the extent that Americans know about her at all. A USA Today/Gallup survey released this week has her favorable rating at 42 percent, with 24 percent unfavorable. Fully a quarter of respondents said they had no opinion about Mr. Romney’s spouse.

And Democrats are unlikely to make much electoral headway by trying to portray Mrs. Romney as a mirror of her husband, Richita Rich. The voting public distinguishes between politicians and their spouses, and as long as the spouse does not take overt policy positions, generally gives them a pass. That’s one reason why Michelle Obama’s favorability ratings average about 9 points better than her husband’s.

But for those conservatives landing on Juan Williams today, remember that once the right defended him against what it perceived as the forces of political correctness. Two years ago he got fired from NPR after saying that he got nervous on airplanes when he saw people in Muslim garb.

“Clearly, NPR only wants opinion journalists that agree with the opinions of NPR, and I mean totally agree,” wrote – who else – Ed Morrissey of Hot Air! at the time.

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