04.25.09

Obama's Seinfeld Doctrine

Remember that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza succeeds by doing the opposite of everything he would normally do? The Daily Beast’s Nicole Wallace thinks Obama and his staff might have watched a rerun recently—and borrowed George’s juvenile tactics in their relentless assault on President Bush. Obama’s strategy? Doing exactly the opposite of what Bush would do—and wait for global adulation. Below, Wallace imagines some deleted scenes from the president’s press conference where he frankly acknowledges the anti-Bush philosophy behind his agenda.

April 19, 2009
Obama’s Summit of the Americas Press Conference
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
12:17 P.M. EDT

CHUCK TODD: A lot of people are going to start trying to write about the "Obama Doctrine." What should people be taking away after observing you on the world stage the last three weeks? What are the pillars of the Obama Doctrine?

Ax goes through the papers every night, and whatever question we face, we do the opposite of what George Bush would have done. Ax knows that our strategic imperative is to hang on to our change brand.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I will leave it up to you, Chuck, to write the definitive statement on Obamaism. But there are a couple of principles that I've tried to apply across the board: No. 1, that the United States remains the most powerful, wealthiest nation on Earth, but we're only one nation, and that the problems that we confront, whether it's drug cartels, climate change, terrorism, you name it—we can no longer pretend that we aren’t to blame for everything that goes wrong, you know? I mean, as I told the French, we were arrogant, dismissive, and derisive, and as Hillary told the Mexicans, it’s our addiction to drugs that’s causing all the violence on the border. So, unlike the last guy, uh, you know, George Bush, [nervous laughter from the press] yeah, him, well, he kind of pissed everyone off by acting like, “Hey, we’re America—we rule, and if you don’t listen to us, we’re gonna get you. Dead or alive.” Remember that?

[press murmurs in agreement and heads start nodding.]

So, what Ax and I devised, Chuck, is a system—and it replaces those pillars that you asked me about. That’s the old politics—pillars and convictions and principles and ideologies. The voters had a chance to select a man of conviction, and they picked me, so, they’ve already spoken on this question. See, my campaign was about doing away with pillars. Pillars get in the way. They are heavy and unbending, and they can’t be moved quickly or easily. Well, unless they are those awesome pillars that they built for my speech at the Democratic National Convention. Oh man, that was a great night, wasn’t it? It was like the whole world wanted me to win. The skies cleared. The crowd was roaring. The bands were on fire. Ohhhh yeahh . . . I was in the zone that night...

TODD: Mr. President?

PRESIDENT: Sorry, Chuck, where was I?

TODD: I still don’t understand what any of this has to do with the Obama Doctrine.

PRESIDENT: OK so, how can I explain it so all of you reporter types understand it? OK, remember the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza decides to do the opposite of everything he would normally do? First, he changed his lunch order from tuna and toast to chicken salad on rye? Then he started talking to attractive women? Eventually he got a job at the Yankees. Things started working out for him. His “right track” numbers went up, you could say.

So, that’s basically what we do. Ax goes through the papers and the data every night, and whatever question we face, we do the opposite of what George Bush would have done. Ax knows that our strategic imperative is to hang on to our change brand. If we do that successfully, we can get away with the old Democrat antibusiness, tax-and-spend stuff and no one will notice. And, I don’t know about you, but I think the polls speak for themselves. I mean, what’s amazing is that I ran on this whole “break bread with the dictator” thing, remember? And the funny thing is that Hillary thought she could use it against me in the primaries, but now she’s my secretary of State. Ah, life is funny.

TODD: So, uh, can you go over how the Costanza strategy works from practical standpoint, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT: Of course, Chuck. So, usually we have time to plan it out. For those times when I can’t use my TelePrompTer, Ax says, “Barack, just close your eyes for a minute and pretend you are George W. Bush. Think of what he would say. Then open your mouth and say the opposite.” But more often than not, we have ample time to integrate the message and the political operation. Valerie and Desiree always want to talk policy and organizing—snooze and double snooze—so Ax, Gibbie, Rahm and I do our strategy meetings after-hours. Guys only. Take this coming week when we get back to Washington, for example. This will be anti-Bush terrorism policy week, so everything Bush did, we are going to do the opposite. You can’t exactly get the kind of reception I just got in Europe if you are taking the fight to the enemy. So, we have already started reversing all the policies that Bush put in place. You know, we closed Gitmo—I mean, we didn’t actually close it. I’m not sure we ever will, to be honest. I mean if you can’t build a place to store nuclear waste how are you ever going to locate terrorists in American cities?

TODD: I think I understand. How does the Costanza Strategy play out in your meetings with foreign leaders?

PRESIDENT: We have some very specific national interests, starting with safety and security that we have to attend to; but we recognize that other countries have domestic politics to attend to, too, and so, you know, I think it represents positive progress when they say to me: “Barack, we’re so glad you won. We loved your logo. Can one of your staffers send me over a PDF so we can use it for our next campaign?” And I have to nod and accept it when they say: “And you know, we will turn out the crowds like we did in Germany last summer, but we can’t stand with your boys and girls in Afghanistan—too risky. The European publics don’t have the stomach for war.” You know, I have to just grin and bear it. I mean, most Americans will be thrilled to see how much the world likes us again, and Americans need to understand that Europe’s unwillingness to suit up is something that even I can’t do anything about. It’s one thing that's not going to change because I'm popular in Europe.

Another thing, my final point on this question, and then we need to move on. I feel very strongly that when we are at our best, the United States represents a set of universal values and ideals. I mean, I did have to shut down those Fox News tea parties. Those people were total nutcases, and so what if I was more generous to the Castro brothers and my new book club partner Hugo than I was to the thousands of Americans who don’t want to pay higher taxes? I mean those tea party people are fringe, baby, fringe. I have more in common with the Europeans, frankly, than those people. Thank you for your great questions, Chuck. I reminded myself of my law professor days.

Nicolle Wallace served as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House, as well as communications director for President Bush's 2004 campaign.