by Frank Schnittger
Mon Nov 10th, 2008 at 11:48:16 AM EST
William Kristol is a leading neoconservative activist and founder of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century. He is the son of Irving Kristol the founder of neoconservatism and was once dubbed "Dan Quayle's brain" upon being appointed the Vice President's chief of staff. Neo-conservative credentials don't come much higher than that.
He has just written a hilarious column in the New York Times were he chronicles the development of his thoughts on Obama's (unexpected and unexceptional - for him) election victory as Obama gave his Victory address in Grant Park in Chicago and his first press conference as President Elect.
So what, for William Kristol, was the most important part of quite a substantive first Press conference by President Elect Obama?
Op-Ed Columnist - G.O.P. Dog Days? - NYTimes.com
In other words, this was a good Democratic year, but it is still a center-right country. Conservatives and the Republican Party will have a real chance for a comeback -- unless the skills of the new president turn what was primarily an anti-Bush vote into the basis for a new liberal governing era.
Those were my thoughts when, a few minutes into his victory speech, just after midnight, Obama told his daughters, "And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House."
Not out of my deep affection for dogs, fond of them though I am. But because while we've all known that Obama is a very skillful politician, he hasn't until now been a particularly empathetic one. Competence plus warmth is a pretty potent combination. Suddenly visions of the two great modern realigning presidents -- Franklin Roosevelt (with his Scottish terrier Fala) and Ronald Reagan (with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel Rex) -- flashed before my eyes. Maybe a realignment could be coming.
Obama was, naturally, asked about the promised-but-not-yet-purchased puppy at his press conference Friday. (If one were being churlish, one might say that it was typical of a liberal to promise the dog before delivering it. A results-oriented conservative would simply have shown up with the puppy without the advance hype.)
Obama commented wryly that the canine question had "generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything." He continued:
"We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So -- so whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."
Here, in a few sentences, Obama did the following: He deepened his bond with every dog lover in America. He identified with every household that's tried to figure out what kind of dog to get. He touched every parent with a kid allergic to pets. He showed compassion by preferring a dog from a shelter. And he demonstrated a dry and slightly politically incorrect wit by commenting that "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."
Not bad. It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives.
Obama has sometimes been considered to be a little po-faced, but he can also do a nice line in self-depreciating humour. However he has also given some absolutely hilarious speeches. Watch him roast Rahm Emanuel, his new Chief of Staff, back in 2005 in this speech.
A couple of weeks ago in the heat of a very tense election entering its final phase, he absolutely roasted McCain, Palin, Schumer, a cross-dressing Rudy Giuliani and himself in one of the funniest political speeches I have ever seen.
A few more speeches like this, and it is going to be harder and harder for the hard right to continue to demonize him. A few more speeches like this, and even conservative Americans may actually start to like Barack Obama. It doesn't get much worse than that - if you are William Kristol. Conservatives have understood (much better than liberals) that voters need to be able to identify with and like their leaders as well as agree with their policies.
"Change you can enjoy" seems an odd slogan for an Administration in the midst of an almost unprecedented economic crisis. However as even the Romans understood in an era of Bread and Circuses, a little humour can also go a long way in fending off a serious depression or military reverse. Obama is going to need all his communication skills in the difficult times ahead, but if he can keep voters laughing with him, rather than at him, he has won the hardest part of the battle.