Daily Beast’s Jonathan Alter: Obama Should Debate the ‘Odious Head of the NRA’ On Prime-Time TV

Even though Barack Obama is more than four-fifths of the way through his presidency, a large part of his popularity among liberals still rests on what they view as his exceptional talent for speechmaking -- a reputation which dates to his 2004 Democratic convention keynote address.

Now one of Obama’s biggest fans in the media, The Daily Beast’s Jonathan Alter, wants the POTUS to use his skill as a performer in a different context. In a Sunday column, Alter urged Obama to “challenge Wayne LaPierre, longtime leader of the National Rifle Association, to a one-hour primetime televised debate.”

Alter lamented that when Obama makes his “irrefutable arguments” about gun laws, “few hear them. The remarks are made from the White House in the middle of the afternoon and have become sadly routine…The best way to change the dynamic is with America’s greatest product: entertainment. And the only entertainment that draws large TV audiences nowadays is live, unscripted drama or sports.”

From Alter’s column (bolding added):

On Thursday, in the wake of yet another school shooting, President Obama…left reporters in stunned silence with the vehemence of his remarks…

Since the president is asking for our suggestions, I’ve got one:

Barack Obama should challenge Wayne LaPierre, longtime leader of the National Rifle Association, to a one-hour primetime televised debate…

I can hear the objections now: Why should the president lower himself to giving an equal platform to the odious head of the NRA? Why would Obama—who despises campaign debates—ever agree to it? Why do I imagine it would do any good in getting the bill passed that failed narrowly in the Senate in 2013?...

Opponents of gun safety legislation…have lately tried to say the real problem is mental illness. Of course, as the president pointed out last week, every country in the world has mental illness but we are the only one with anywhere near this level of gun violence.

Unfortunately, when Obama makes this or other irrefutable arguments, few hear them. The remarks are made from the White House in the middle of the afternoon and have become sadly routine…

The best way to change the dynamic is with America’s greatest product: entertainment. And the only entertainment that draws large TV audiences nowadays is live, unscripted drama or sports. Knowing they could expect entertainment with Donald Trump, 24 million Americans tuned into both GOP debates—more than seven times as many as watched in 2012. And those debates were only on one network—Fox News and later CNN…

No doubt the president’s advisers and ardent supporters will scoff at the suggestion that he lower himself in this way. They’ll say it’s unpresidential, gimmicky, and wrong…

I’d ask the president what is more important—your understandable disdain for debates and your sense of propriety about the office you hold, or using the bully pulpit in a new way that just might bring results?...

Barack Obama has been a much better president than generally assumed. But in his first term he was sometimes too diffident, too above the fray, to drive his agenda. Now he’s ready for anything.

“It is not the critic who counts,” Theodore Roosevelt, one of Obama’s favorite presidents, famously said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena”…

Mr. President, you can bet that Teddy would have descended into this arena—the only powerful arena we have—were he living in our age. So should you.

In his comments on Alter’s column, James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal noted that in such a debate, LaPierre “would have the opportunity to call the president out on his basic deception…On the one hand, Obama says he favors modest, ‘common-sense’ measures that should be acceptable to ‘responsible, law-abiding gun-owners.’ On the other, he cites Britain and Australia as examples to emulate, without describing the specifics of their draconian gun-control regimes. LaPierre would fill in that elision.”

Guns Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Misc Television The Daily Beast Wall Street Journal NRA Jonathan Alter James Taranto Barack Obama Wayne LaPierre


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