Politicians do get angry. They even sometimes get angry in public. They are, after all, human, in some cases anyway.
But politicians mostly only take their masks off when cornered: stuck in a televised argument with an expert irritant, called to speak in a legislative chamber just as that nagging case of intermittent explosive disorder kicks in, surprised by a ropeline question on the campaign trail, etc.
But if you think that Barack Obama, one of the coolest cucumbers ever to occupy the White House, sat down for a scheduled interview in front of a professional softballer like ex-Times and current Yahoo pundit Matt Bai — a setup that’s the presidential media equivalent of a spa treatment — and just suddenly “lost it” in a discussion about the TPP, you’ve been had.
Almost without a doubt, Obama’s remarks were carefully scripted. And it’s likely all of these “whispers” suddenly circulating on the Hill about a percolating genuine personal feud between Obama and Warren also came from a focus-group-aided strategy meeting somewhere.
Even Bai approvingly described Obama’s move as an effort to triangulate the “professional left.” These tactics make a lot of sense politically, and within the Beltway, chiding the “unrealistic” progressives of the Warren ilk is considered almost a rite of passage for politicians on the blue side who want to prove they’re “serious about governing.”
Triangulating — beating up on the ideologues within your own party in order to shore up your centrist cred and reassure your money sources — is an especially brilliant solution for Democrats targeting national office. Those politicians need virtual monopolies on union and minority votes, but also need just enough centrists and white southerners to stay viable. To keep those latter votes, you need to make a few very conspicuous moves from time to time.
That’s surely what happened here with the TPP, a monster deal with the potential to reshape not just our trade profile but our domestic financial regulatory structure. Along with a Democratic Party that would love one last chance to prove itself to Wall Street heading into 2016, Obama badly wants this deal passed, perhaps as a way to steer his legacy in a more bipartisan direction before he rides off into the sunset.
So he picked just the right moment and just the right words to goad the press into painting him as someone who’s just so angry at Elizabeth Warren’s failure to understand how the real world looks from behind the Oval Office desk, he just couldn’t keep his feelings reined in. He tried to retain his usual Björn Borglike exterior, but the oven-mitt questioning of Matt Bai just beat it out of him!