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.
| September 22, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories: Latest stories, Top story | Tags: CNBC, Obama, Velma Hart, town hall
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