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The Velma moment

It was a midday event carried on one basic cable channel, so most Americans didn't see it live.

But it contained a moment that seemed to capture the shortcomings of the Obama presidency.

Velma Hart called out the president.

And it landed with a smack because Hart is a black woman who supports Obama -- but is bitterly disappointed in his performance.

Had the president seized that moment at the CNBC town hall -- comforting Hart, passionately defending his efforts to help the middle class -- he could have turned the tide in his favor. He could have owned the moment.

But he didn't. He gave a perfectly acceptable but somewhat detached recitation of programmatic changes he has made.

The result: It was Velma's moment.

That's why Hart, chief financial officer for the group AMVETS, is pictured on the front page of Tuesday's New York Post, her words enshrined in a cartoon bubble (under the headline "BEANED!!") That's why her words were played on the "CBS Evening News" and "NBC Nightly News." That's why she was on "Hardball" last night.

She was "exhausted" at defending Obama. She voted for a man "who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. ... And I'm waiting, sir, I'm waiting." She and her husband thought they were "well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives." And then, the final blow, to which she demanded an honest answer: "Is this my new reality?"

Obama never answered that last part. He might have vowed not to let that happen, to declare that he is fighting to make sure that Hart and others like her hold onto their hard-won gains.

Instead, he said: "So the life you describe -- one of responsibility, looking after your family, contributing back to your community -- that's what we want to reward." And: "We're moving in the right direction."

This was a black woman, someone who believed in Obama, which gave her brief time in the spotlight added resonance. Yes, she's got a good job and two kids in private school, so she's not hurting as much as many. But her expectations from 2008, however unrealistic, have been dashed.

"Quite frankly," Hart later told CNN, "I thought my question would set the platform for a response that would almost be, oh I don't know, whimsical, magical, very powerful."

Big moments matter in politics. When Reagan told Gorbachev, "Tear down this wall," it captured his persona as an anticommunist warrior. When Bill Clinton assured the nation that "I did not have sexual relations," it became the sound bite that haunted his presidency. When George W. Bush grabbed the bullhorn in the rubble of the World Trade Center, he channeled the nation's anger and resolve (just as he overreached by landing on the "Mission Accomplished" ship in a flight suit).

Maybe Velma Hart's question will quickly become a footnote. But for Obama, it was a missed opportunity.

By Howard Kurtz  | September 22, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Latest stories, Top story  | Tags:  CNBC, Obama, Velma Hart, town hall  
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I understand the point Mr. Kurtz is making, but I'd much rather have "a perfectly acceptable but somewhat detached recitation of programmatic changes he has made" than empty rhetoric or grandstanding.

Whatever one's political persuasion--and I freely admit I'm a strong supporter of Pres. Obama--have we REALLY lost our ability as a society to appreciate the ability to give competent, thoughtful answers to tough questions? Must we always be entertained rather than edified?
Apparently so, alas...

Posted by: DCSteve1 | September 22, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

The problem that Obama is having is that his entire campaign consisted of entertainment, a practice that the media was more than happy to overlook and join the campaign. Now that the public has tired of the retoric and grandstanding and actually expects the president to produce results, we are finding his cupboard is
bare. always has been!

Posted by: ddddff | September 22, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

This woman is like many Americans. Stupid and impatient for things to get better almost overnight.

Posted by: case50 | September 22, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I know AMVETS is a non-profit, but it's a big one. If she is the group's CFO, I doubt if she really has to eat hot dogs and beans every night. The problem for Obama is that he is incapable of putting on a mask and betraying his real nature, which is that of a coolly analytical law professor. I would no more expect him to have Clintonesque empathetic responses than I would have expected George W. Bush to write his own speeches.

Posted by: jhpurdy | September 22, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Her comments resonated with many americans and Obama answered the question well. I think his policies will benefit the country, but they are slow in pump priming right now.

Posted by: cadam72 | September 22, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

(just as he overreached by landing on the "Mission Accomplished" ship in a flight suit).

Couldn't resist, could you, Howie?

Posted by: d1carter | September 22, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't resist telling the truth, that is! Even Bush's inner circle long ago stopped defending that hubristic debacle. Maybe you should take a cue from them...

Posted by: DCSteve1 | September 22, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

d1carter wrote:
(just as he overreached by landing on the "Mission Accomplished" ship in a flight suit).
Couldn't resist, could you, Howie?

Why should he resist?? Because it isn't true??? No, it's right on.

The gist of Kurtz's entire article is to say that Obama missed an opportunity, which many will interpret (with some reason) as "Obama blew it." He UNDERREACHED a moment. So don't label this a puff piece and Obama hagiography--it's far, FAR from that. But you think Kurtz spoiled things, after praising Reagan and even GWB himself, by pointing out GWB's OVERREACH?

Don't think so . . .

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | September 22, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Aren't the salaries of senior management in non-profits (like AmVets) public information? I'm just curious how much Velma Hart is making, as the CFO of AmVets.

She's married. Any idea how much her husband is making? I'm just curious.

Posted by: gubystander | September 22, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

As my mother would say, Velma is "crying on a full stomach." She is a CFO for goodness sakes and one would think she would have some command over her own finances. She like many Americans believe President Obama arrived at the White House with a magic wand.

Was she absent from planet earth over the past 2 years? Did she sleep through our economy crashing and buring at the feet of GW Bush before he vacated the White House? Would she have ever told GW she was running out of patience with his failed policies which landed us in the economic destruction zone?

Is she blind to the racism and fear that has permeated our county and congress and has created an atmosphere of distrust and social paralysis?

President Obama is fighting against a congress afraid to spend its way out of a recession. He is battling weak Democrats, GOP Obstructionists, flesh eating TeaBaggers and spineless Americans looking to lay blame at his feet when he inherited a broken down county in mind body and spirit from a negligent Republican administration.

Velma needs her wig checked. Her thought patterns are a wreck.

Posted by: clarity2 | September 23, 2010 3:00 AM | Report abuse

You think this was a legitimate comment and not a plant?
Because she was Black?
The syntax alone smacks of agenda.
Try using this phrase with your boss next time you are in a meeting:
"“And, quite frankly, Bob, I need you to answer honestly ..."
Try using it next time you are arguing with your wife"
“And, quite frankly, Dear, I need you to answer honestly ..."
Try using it next time you are in traffic court:
“And, quite frankly, Mr. Judge, I need you to answer honestly ..."
"Quite frankly, I’m exhausted.
Exhausted of defending you,
defending your administration,
defending the man for change I voted for ..."
That was impromptu?
That was off the top of her head?
In the spur of the moment?
If you say so.

Posted by: NCassidy1 | September 26, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

another obama supporter jumps ship.

Posted by: whentheycome | September 27, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

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