Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama’s NASCAR Moment

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 8/20/09

This President, unlike many, has what I would call an authentic personality, meaning he is naturally curious and interested in the world and responds naturally to originality and creativity no matter where he comes from. Then he also has an “official” nature; modified by his handlers. If you look, you can tell: He looks like he really likes this; or he’s just doing what they tell him to do or what he thinks a President should be doing in a situation like this. He has two smiles that go with it. The one, a huge, beaming, indomitable smile of joy that is present on every picture of his maternal grandfather. The other, the attractive and stylish JFK smile with the casual wave. His picture today with 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson on the South Lawn of the White House and his big car shows the President beaming, happy, and engaged. There is something in the animal that wants to go fast.

As a posse of pundits has been expecting pictures of him basking with Prof. Gates and New York’s elite at Martha’s Vineyard this week and waiting for his approval ratings to drop accordingly, we have been getting instead Obama and his girls at the Grand Canyon, most American of icons and here with NASCAR’s top drivers. Nice footwork by somebody. This is the President’s best public relations photo op moment since he ran for President.

The President is not a snob. But he has been led to the institutionalized voices of snobbery and pretension by people who are and it has hurt him. Obama might take a cure from Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, who advised Mark Warner in his successful run for Governor of Virginia. Mudcat got Warner to sponsor a NASCAR team and brought the Stanley Brothers to his events. Warner, now Senator from Virginia, like Obama, is a Harvard-educated lawyer and the vital, rural life force of the sweet hills of Wilkesboro where stock car racing got its start wouldn’t come naturally to him. But, like Obama, he seemed to enjoy the party.

Not everyone would, and it would show. NASCAR might be a touchstone for rising politicians. Bring them to an event. See if they look like they’d like to go fast too. Or see if they squirm.