Obama the Pitchman

Mostly the incumbent president is loath to get his hands dirty. Mostly he seems to believe that a good idea, a good policy, should sell itself, Mostly he has avoided the wheeling and dealing, the personal politicking, that is necessary to get things done in Washington.  To this general rule there has been one exception – the Affordable Care Act – but only one or, at least, only one that stands out.

Now it appears that there is a second exception. It appears that President Obama intends to go all out during the next three months to try to sell to the American people, and to the American Congress, and to the world at large the virtues of moving from a draft nuclear deal with Iran to a permanent one.

The most striking indicator so far of Obama’s investment in this arrangement is his extended one on one interview with New York Times foreign affairs columnist, Tom Friedman. The interview, conducted in the Oval Office on Saturday afternoon, was wide-ranging and far-reaching, and clearly targeted at a large audience not only at home, but abroad. The full text was promptly posted on line, as was a video. Moreover Friedman was quick himself to write an extended piece about the substance of what the president said – which Friedman framed as the “Obama Doctrine.” What is the Obama Doctrine? It is Obama’s conviction that “engagement,” in combination with meeting America’s strategic needs, better serves the national interest than the endless sanctions against three countries that have long been isolated from the international community: Burma, Cuba, and Iran.

My point though is not about what precisely the president will be saying. It is about how precisely he will be saying it. How will Obama try to sell the agreement with Iran in a context that is so inhospitable?  In a context in which so many of his political opponents – and even some of his political allies – are questioning not only the substance of the deal but the legality of trying to secure it without Congressional approval?

I will say that the president seems to get it. That the president seems to get that he has no choice on this one but to pitch his wares as persistently and persuasively as he knows how. Even if it means getting his hands soiled in ways that he typically finds personally and politically distasteful.



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