Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Obama Talkfest

If nothing else, this President is setting records for communication as he visits the Middle East to say a few words privately and publicly in the Muslim world.

Before leaving, he tells Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that "if we are engaged in speaking directly to the Arab street, and they are persuaded that we are operating in a straightforward manner, then, at the margins, both they and their leadership are more inclined and able to work with us.”

His 20 minutes on the phone with Friedman and an interview with French TV yesterday, coming after dozens of other one-on-one media exchanges, have far outdone all previous presidents combined in giving access to the occupant of the White House.

Shortly before he died, JFK told me he had broken his rule against exclusive interviews only twice, for Izvestia with Soviet leader Khrushchev's son-in-law and a group of women's magazine editors about nuclear weapons.

Then there is the fabled Calvin Coolidge, the 1920s president known as "Silent Cal." At a White House dinner, when Dorothy Parker told him she had made a bet she could get him to say more than two words, Coolidge replied, "You lose."

In contrast, as President Obama's word count mounts, admirers will stress his openness while critics denounce him as all talk.

Be that as it may, Friedman tells him an old Jewish joke to start today's interview, and another comes to mind--about a voice from the balcony, after a famous Yiddish actor has dropped dead on the stage, keeps yelling "Give him an enema!"

Asked in exasperation how that could help a corpse. the heckler responds, "It couldn't hurt!"

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