Forget Jerry Seinfeld. Forget Friends. The new star of Must See TV night is President Obama.
Call it whatever you want. Whether it was smart, dumb, a gamble, political calculating or all of the above, when President Obama appeared in front of hundreds of chomping-at-the-bit Republicans with the cameras rolling on live TV he not only made for Must See TV, he also provided the much needed transparency jolt that voters want to see. The President passed the test with flying colors.
This was the American version of those back and forth British Parliament sessions. (The only element missing was John Boehner and Eric Cantor in full white wig mode.) It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that President Obama's decision to step into the GOP lion's (elephant's?) den was designed as a political move. He needs some Republicans on board with his agenda and showing up in front of them may expose them politically as the party of No. But to only consider the political implications misses the point entirely. The upside for President Obama after this political grudge match is measurable.
First of all, he now has the ultimate trump card in transparency. To be able to field questions from the enemy on live TV takes guts. Talk about transparent. This is as naked politically as you can get. This could have been a colossal failure. The White House clearly wanted cameras in there for political reasons but don't think for a second that this couldn't have horribly backfired. Who's to say that President Obama wouldn't have been confronted with some sort of nasty, embarrassing, in your face question? Sort of like a "Joe Wilson on Steroids moment?" You think that wouldn't have made the "YouTube" rounds and sent Robert Gibbs into defensive daily briefing mode? It's a chance the President didn't have to take but he did.
Secondly, to sit there and listen to a talking points question for three minutes and keep your composure showed President Obama at his level headed best. He looked grown up and mature. He gave as good as he received without this developing into a political food fight that only John Belushi could love. In short, he looked presidential.
Finally, this move by The White House to allow cameras in for the event played right into one of the President's main strengths. In case you haven't noticed, the guy is smart. Every time a Republican had a fact, the President had one to match. While you may not agree with the President's argument, he was able to argue his point but not come across as argumentative. That's not easy. With all due respect to the President's ability to give a good speech, he's actually better without the teleprompter. It makes him less robotic and instead more real. Lofty rhetoric sounds nice but talking regular makes for more believability.
In a day and age where voters are angry and skeptical of politicians, a transparent and open dialogue between the President and his critics is needed in the worst way. We can only hope that there are more of these to come. The American people want to see it. We deserve to have a front row seat. After all, we're paying top dollar for it right?
While there was a political motive behind this (when is there ever not a political motive? That's why it's called politics) that doesn't change one simple fact: The President of the United States took a gamble. He showed up. He took the GOP's best shot and while he probably didn't leave the room with fewer critics, he left with something far more important: more credibility with the American people who want to see politicians stand up, start solving problems and act like grown ups rather than little children.