People magazine scored one of those year-end interviews, and they didn’t seem interested in breaking any news. Their own “news” headline on their website: “President Obama: 'I've Got 3 Opinionated, Strong, Tall Women'” – his wife and daughters.
People managing editor Larry Hackett and reporter Sandra Sobieraj Westfall began by citing “NSA spying, healthcare.gov, and the shutdown,” only to pull up lame and ask “What have you learned about your management style?” Isn’t the better question what America learned about his lack of management? Obama lunged straight into blame-shifting, blaming – get this – the bigness of government:
THE PRESIDENT: Well I would distinguish between most of the things you mentioned, which weren’t management issues, but rather had to do with the fact that the federal government is big – 2 million people – and at any given point there are going to be problems that arise. The healthcare.gov issue, which is something that I was paying a lot of attention to [!], didn’t get done the way I wanted it. The government hasn’t transitioned into the 21st century on that front.
Then the People duo asked “Did you try to log on yourself?”
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, absolutely. My experience was no different from everybody else’s, whic was we couldn’t get on, and it was frustrating. The good news is it now works, although it’s still got some problems. My expectation is that next year when we sit down for this interview, there are going to be millions of people who have the security of health insurance for the first time.
There was one question about the opposition, not about their substance, but about their malignant intentions: "With this autumn’s government showdown, Ted Cruz and the Tea Party put front and center what partisan gridlock means. Do you see any path for getting past that?"
Obama repeated his standard line that the Tea Party – “the faction that would rather shut down the government than cooperate” – “isn’t representative of Republicans around the country, much less Democrats or independents.” Obama insisted immigration legislation is “something I think we can get done,” and added “People are overwhelmingly supportive of increasing the minimum wage. A majority of Republicans think that’s a good idea as well.”
He must mean Republicans in public polls, not in Congress. The latest Quinnipiac poll found 49 percent of Republicans in favor, 44 percent opposed – not quite a majority.
They asked two questions about NSA spying on German prime minister Angela Merkel, and then shifted to comfortable liberal territory: “You visited families fasting for immigration reform.”
Mrs. Obama said: “I met a woman in the fasters’ tent who hadn’t seen her kids in about a decade. She was in tears at the through that she is an economic engine here, and she hasn’t seen her kids. So this is about reunifying families. For me it was pretty impactful.”
From there, it went into everything People liked best, about how Obama interacted with the “three tall women.” He said "I've got three opinionated, strong, tall women...If they get together, they can have fun about my ears or being too loud, or how I dress."
In his Editor’s Letter, Hackett returned to the wife-and-daughter dance at the beginning to build sympathy for Obama: “He takes abuse on Capitol Hill, in the press, and from some of his own party stalwarts. So perhaps it’s no surprise that President Obama takes a bit of a beating when he heads upstairs after a bruising day at the office.”
Hackett was still arriving apologetically about the interview that appeared in January 2010:
Obama is delighted by the ribbing he receives from his wife and daughters. This was the fourth time Washington correspondent Sandra Sobieraj Westfall and I had interviewed him, and he seemed both more tired and more determined than in past years (why he ever let us return to the White House, after we bumped him from a cover for a reality star’s plastic surgery, I will never know.)
The Obamas got bumped to the upper right for Heidi Montag, who at that time was still starring on MTV's "The Hills." But this is the People Magazine crowd’s definition of “news,” so the Obamas can’t really be upset. This is the type of voter they’re always looking to impress – the ones who wouldn’t know the size of the national debt, and might not be able to locate their state on a map.
Just as important as the words in this new interview were the pictures -- Obama on the golf course, Obama playing with the new dog, the Obamas kissing at the inaugural parade, Michelle Obama with Muppets, Obama and his family on a book outing...and even the family walking to one of those rare church outings. The pictures don't have to be representative -- just positive.