Obama channels Michael Douglas

A little bit of deja vu in the exchange with House Republicans

By Alex Koppelman
Published January 29, 2010 10:19PM (EST)

As Mike Madden noted in his post on President Obama's Friday meeting with House Republicans, Democratic operatives in Washington, D.C. spent the time watching in amazement and wondering: "Where the hell has this guy been?" Nearly everyone on the left, it seems, has had that kind of reaction to the president's performance; at once complimentary and puzzled, wondering why this side of Obama -- kicking ass, taking names, and doing it like the old professor he is -- doesn't show more often.

There's a funny little parallel from Hollywood for this. If you've never seen it (and if you've never seen it, you should, but be warned that I'm about to give away some key plot here), "The American President," which stars Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, is a movie about a president who's dropping in the polls, his Republican opponents growing bolder by the day as he refuses to strike back. And then, of course, when he finally does, it's Hollywood-style brilliant: He drops in unexpectedly at a press briefing to announce that he's had a change of heart, makes an eloquent case for liberalism and America and generally beats the hell out of his primary antagonist.

I bring all of this up because as I was watching the end of Obama's question-and-answer session with the House Republicans I started feeling like I'd heard one thing he said, or something like it, somewhere before. And I had -- turns out it was remarkably similar to one of the best lines that Douglas' character delivers during his big speech.

Obama: "That's why I say if we're going to frame these debates in ways that allow us to solve them, then we can't start off by figuring out, A, who's to blame; B, how can we make the American people afraid of the other side."

Douglas: "We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it."

This is, for the record, not to suggest that Obama lifted the line, which I don't think he did. Just a humorous note for a Friday afternoon.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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