The other day, the commercial where a cartoon turtle wondered how many licks it took to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop crossed my mind. Maybe this popped into my head because the center of the candy was brown, like President Obama.
“Mr. Turtle, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” was the opening line of a Tootsie Pop commercial back in the seventies.
Mr. Turtle answered the cartoon boy. “I never made it without biting. Ask Mr. Owl.”
The boy approached a scholarly looking cartoon version of an owl, its great unblinking eyes staring at us from our television screens, and repeated his question. “Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.”
Mr. Owl said “let’s find out” and proceeded to unwrap the hard shelled bit of flavored candy on a stick with a chewy Tootsie Roll center. The owl’s tongue extended slowly from its mouth to take deliberate licks of the candy, pausing after each lick to update the count.
“Ah one.” “Ah two.” “Three.” With the third lick, the beak of the owl suddenly opened, and the bird crunched the entire bit of candy from the end of the stick.
“Three,” he declared, his feathers unruffled, his unblinking eyes staring out into TV land.
What seems to be the most infuriating for many Obama supporters is the way in which the president has decided that his official course of action in response to the political mauling of his administration by the Gothic Oath Party and the relentless twenty four hours a day onslaught of personal attacks mostly consists of turning the other cheek.
How many licks can President Obama take? More importantly, why does he continue to take them without retaliating in kind?
A Washington Monthly reader named Tom, as my friends at Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish and W.E.E. SEE YOU pointed out yesterday, has done a pretty good job of trying to explain why a lot of Americans, including many of those in his political base as well as his political enemies, simply do not have a grasp of the inner workings of Barack Obama.
“I think that he understands himself (and certainly his real base understands him) as the first African American President. We’re thinking Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. We should be thinking about Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of Chicago. Washington was elected and immediately faced a solid wall of opposition from most white aldermen in the city. Washington understood his role as breaking down that wall of opposition and assembling a governing majority, which he finally did after his re-election.”
“White progressives often think that African American elected officials are politically naive. We will far more credit to Cornel West, who has never been elected to anything, than to an elected state senator, or even the President of the United States. We think that Obama does not understand the nature of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell or Eric Cantor, as though he has not sat across the table from them. He doesn’t understand how mean they are, we think.”
“Obama acts entirely within the tradition of mainstream African American political strategy and tactics. The epitome of that tradition was the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement, but goes back much further in time. It recognizes the inequality of power between whites and blacks. Number one: maintain your dignity. Number two: call your adversaries to the highest principles they hold. Number three: Seize the moral high ground and Number four: Win by winning over your adversaries, by revealing the contradiction between their own ideals and their actions.”
Tom is correct. These are the same strategies and tactics that worked during the civil rights movement. The Harold Washington characterization is better than anything I’ve seen recently to come out of the professional beltway columnists and pundits. And with nothing else going on in Congress except the Gothic Oath Party’s “Hack-Obama” gameplan, it won’t take much longer for the general public to see how the obsession with crippling the Obama presidency has resulted in a Do Nothing House and a Pass Nothing Senate.
But within the compressed time constraints of an American president’s political life, Obama’s efforts at high minded moral suasion are likely to begin to give way to a more direct level of confrontation as the next fourteen months winds down.