Take it from me, America's foremost authority on politics: Being smooth is an important part of being a successful elected official.
You've got to know how to talk to people. You need a finely tuned sense of what to say to make them feel good, what will inspire them, and what will convince them to give you money/vote for you instead of the guy who loves "Twilight"/think of you as a chill bro who loves ping-pong. You need fingertips. A deft touch.
Which is why it's no surprise that, while sitting down for a television interview with Cleveland ABC affiliate WEWS-TV about important national issues like the state of the automotive industry, high unemployment rates and urban education, President Barack Obama asked WEWS reporter Leon Bibb if Clevelanders still hate LeBron James(notes).
But before [the interview] got officially started, the president — unsolicited — brought up the topic most Clevelanders have chosen to forget, LeBron James.
"Is Cleveland still rooting against [the Miami Heat]?" asked the president as Bibb was taking his seat (and before the cameras were rolling).
"Yeah, we're working on that," replied Bibb, laughing and asking his thought on the series.
The president said he expects the Heat to take it.
First off: I can understand WEWS reporting this, even though it happened outside the context of the "official" interview — in case you still weren't sure, Mr. President, many people in Cleveland are very, very not over the whole LeBron thing, which makes this the kind of thing a Cleveland TV station's going to write about — but boy, it's got to stink to have your version of small talk become news.
I mean, one second, you're talking to your boy Leon about hoops — just shooting the breeze with Bibbz, getting caught up in the moment, forgetting for a second that he's the official spokesman for Cleveland — and the next thing you know, some jerk on a blog (SPOILER ALERT) is making "Rico Suave" jokes about you. Heavy is the head that wears the hat on which the Oath of Office is embroidered, I guess.
That said: Not the best thought process, sir. "Before we get started talking about all the reasons life is really hard for your audience right now, apropos of nothing, let me ask if they're still mad about a thing that happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers and led them to do all manner of irrational stuff, from setting clothing on fire to throwing their support behind a team owned by Mark Cuban."
Not so slick, Mr. President. Classic Gerardo stuff, except the reverse. (Nailed it.)
Now, while I steadfastly maintain that I am America's foremost authority on politics, I'm glad that there are some other political junkies covering very serious and important news like this, providing some perspective on what it all means. Over at the Los Angeles Times' Politics Now blog, James Oliphant did some wondering of his own, offering a consideration of how Obama's inquiry might affect his chances at re-election in 2012:
Obama won Ohio in 2008, and Cleveland has always been Democratic territory. But the president had best keep in mind that this recession-tossed state put a Republican in the Senate and in the governor's office last year. If he wants to win the state again, he's going to need those Cavalier fans.
Obama went so far as to pick Miami over Dallas in the finals. An easy pick politically on one level; he likely won't win Texas. But is he attempting to win Florida at Ohio's expense?
It's a very important question, because this is a very important issue that will without question determine how millions of Americans cast their ballots next fall. Will the president's carefully crafted "idle basketball chit-chat" strategy pay electoral dividends? Only time will tell.