The Magazine

Obama and the Press

From the Scrapbook

Apr 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 30
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Iceland Unveils Debt-Reduction Strategy

Under the headline above, a banker friend of The Scrapbook emails what looks like a ransom note in Icelandic. Translation: “Leave 30 billion euros in a plastic bag at the Iceland Embassy tonight and we will switch off the volcano. Do not call the police!”

 

Nuclear AwardsNuclear Awards

 

From Russia with Love

In a world where presidents insult traditional allies and yuck it up with Third World strongmen, The Scrapbook should not be especially surprised by the conduct of the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev while visiting the United States. But The Scrapbook was, indeed, surprised​—and not a little irritated too.

It began on April 9 when George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s Good Morning America interviewed the Russian leader, who had been in Washington to attend the “nuclear safety” conference. Stephanopoulos asked Medvedev what he thought of President Obama, and the Russian president—in time-honored fashion—offered the usual anodyne words of praise, including his opinion that Obama is “a thinker.”

At which point, however, Medvedev strayed from diplomatic etiquette in ways The Scrapbook had never observed before. Obama’s status as a “thinker,” he continued with a wink, “distinguishes him from many people.” Stephanopoulos’s well-coiffed hair appeared to stand on end, and he leaned forward to catch Medvedev’s next bon mot: “Obviously I do have someone in mind. I don’t want to offend anyone.” Thereupon Stephanopoulos giggled so hard that the Russian president could scarcely keep a straight face. 

In one sense, The Scrapbook is sympathetic to Medvedev: If he had made a public joke about the brainpower of his predecessor as president, Vladimir Putin, he might well have faced arrest upon his return to Moscow​—or worse. So now that George W. Bush is safely out of office, how much easier it is to make juvenile comments on American television about the twice-elected president of the United States, who once graciously referred to Medvedev in public as “a smart guy.” 

Or maybe not so smart. What stunned The Scrapbook, of course, was the idea that Medvedev would not just demonstrate the traditional bumptiousness of modern Russian leaders​—a murderer’s row of mass killers, drunks, KGB thugs, and geriatric tyrants​—but would choose to insult an American president in the president’s own country. Evidently, the Russians still have much to learn about civility. 

As for Stephanopoulos: The transition from enabling an impeached Bill Clinton to giving smirking performances on early morning TV seems to have taught him nothing at all.

 

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

‘A year ago in Prague, Barack Obama​—treading deliberately and dramatically further down the path of disarmament than his predecessors of either party had dared to go​—​drew his portrait of a world substantially freed from the fear of atomic annihilation. This week, responding to his leadership, the nations of the world​—​with a few notable exceptions on both sides of the Arab-Israeli divide​—​sent their leaders to Washington to signal their assent .  .  . ” (David Broder, “Obama and the Challenge of Slow Change,” Washington Post, April 15).


 

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