Perry Learned His Lessons While Obama Still Hasn't

Gaffes by Obama and Perry put Romney in a strategic centrist position.

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If Maureen Dowd does not win the next Pulitzer Prize for political commentary I will urge people to stop reading newspapers. Months before a single vote has been cast in the election of 2012, Dowd hit the jackpot at least three times in this most tumultuous year.

First came her piece in March, in which she detailed how Obama's "Valkyries" (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, and National Security Council staffers Samantha Power and Gayle Smith) took the nation to war in Libya, as the president all but vanished from public view. (They now call that style "leading from behind.") Dutiful staffers who first hyped the story spent the next several days walking it back. And the war, the administration that was supposed to have lasted "days, not weeks," lingers on still without congressional authorization.

Last week, Dowd put an end to the media's hyping of what was said to have been a detailed recapitulation of how Navy SEALs removed Osama bin Laden from the planet by revealing that the author had not talked to unnamed sources. Dowd may also have put the brakes on a Hollywood extravaganza, conveniently to be released in October of 2012, casting President Obama in a starring role. She revealed that filmmaker had been granted extraordinary access to higher-ups at the Pentagon—and possibly to classified information. That certainly got people asking questions, not all of them Republicans. [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. ]

Tuesday, Dowd outdid herself. She compared the president's schlep across the country's heartland (in a bus we now know was made in Canada) to the "Afternoon of a Faun," replete with a Martha Stewart-like backdrop. One need not be a devotee of Debussy's musical composition to get the point. What words come to mind at the mere mention of "fauns?"

"Graceful," perhaps even "elegant." But also, "shaky," "inexperienced," and "not always artful." This is the man we have come to recognize by the third year of his presidency. There comes a time in the lives of many would-be athletes and musicians that, whatever their other skills, they are not going to quarterback for the Green Bay Packers or play first violin in the New York Philharmonic. Obama may be the perfect talking machine, but he does not think either well or quickly on his feet. Why does he repeatedly put himself in situations that require him to play to his weaknesses?

Early editions of The Complete Quotations of Barack Obama will include from his first campaign comments about Pennsylvanians who "cling to guns or religion," along with his reassurance to "Joe the Plumber" that he wanted to "spread the wealth around." (Wonder why they call him a "socialist.") The presidential edition of the book will certainly include comments Obama made on his recent trip. (My favorite is, moments after calling for greater civility in politics, Obama's attempt to deny that his vice president had likened Tea Party followers to terrorists.) [Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

If Obama is a faun in Dowd's eyes, one of his would-be replacements, Texas Gov. Rick Perry "galloped through Iowa like an unbroken stallion about to crack a leg." Again, she knew her man.

One could practically hear the smashing of martini glasses thrown against bar walls in New York clubs after Perry proclaimed the head of the Federal Reserve Board "treasonous." If the governor would treat a mild-mannered former Princeton professor "pretty ugly" down in Texas, how might he handle eastern bankers and hedge fund managers, many had to be asking themselves.

Unlike those who reside in Camp Obama, Perry and his team show signs of learning lessons. Days after the media took him to task for his remarks, Perry repeated his criticisms of the Fed, but directed them at the monetary policies Bernanke has pursued, rather than to the chairman's persona. And he did it with considerable charm. Perry's "get America working again" line evoked (perhaps deliberately) John F. Kennedy's pledge to "get America moving again." (One wonders why Obama, the self-proclaimed master of the English language, did not use it first.) [See photos of the GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.]

Meanwhile, Obama's other would-be challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continues as his party's frontrunner. Dowd considers his image statuesque. Perhaps it is. But pollsters continue to tell us that ours remains a center-right nation. It may also be one where colorless can be king. By plotting himself firmly on ground equidistant between his rivals' respective bases (Obama's on the left, and Perry's and Bachmann's on the right), he might yet pull it off. We eagerly await Dowd's take on that.

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