CNN's Gergen Likens President Obama to Damsel in Distress

David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst; & President Barack Obama | NewsBusters.orgCNN’s David Gergen played up the difficulties that President Obama has faced on Monday’s Anderson Cooper 360, underscored the importance of the coming week for the executive, and compared him to an iconic movie damsel in distress: “For a president who’s had more trials than anybody I can remember in a long time, sort of ‘The Perils of Pauline’ all year, this has become a climactic week for his presidency.”

Host Anderson Cooper brought on the senior political analyst to comment on the latest development on the health care debate, the Obama presidency in his first months, and the President’s upcoming trip to the UN’s climate change conference in Copenhagen. Cooper first asked Gergen about the potential for congressional liberals to turn against the proposed health care “reform” bill if the Obama administration cuts a deal with Senator Joe Lieberman over his objections to a Medicare “buy-in” for people 55 and older: “So, David, dropping the Medicare buy-in, could we be seeing- I mean, a liberal revolt in the wake of this? Because, I mean, a lot of people haven’t been following the minutia of this, but, basically, that idea of expanding Medicare to 55 and above, that was all for liberals, who were angered over the public option being dropped out.”

The analyst immediately launched into his movie analogy about Obama:

GERGEN: Let’s put this in a larger context, first, Anderson. For a president who’s had more trials than anybody I can remember in a long time, sort of ‘The Perils of Pauline’ all year, this has become a climactic week for his presidency in his first year, because he has to deal with the bankers. He’s got to- he’s desperately trying now to rescue health care and save that, and he’s going to Copenhagen at the end of the week and that potential treaty is also going south. He has got to rescue that.
Gergen’s line mirrors that of President Obama and his administration, that, as he put it in his recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, “we have inherited the biggest set of challenges of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Later in the segment, the CNN anchor played a clip from that recent Oprah special, where the President also gave himself a “B-plus” grade for his performance in his first year in office, and asked, “So, he gives himself a B-plus, his approval ratings hitting a new low- I mean, is he trying to put a game face on a bad situation, or- I mean, does the White House perceive that there are successes on the brink?”

Gergen gave a more sober assessment, and brought up the results of CNN’s “Second 100 Days” feature from earlier this year, where 300,000+ people online gave Obama an overall “C-minus” grade (question #10 at the link):
GERGEN: They perceive that they have done better than the public thinks. You will remember, with the CNN- we had a big national vote here earlier this year, and people gave him less than a B-plus. And, Anderson, it’s really striking that last week, when he went to Oslo to receive the most prestigious prize in the world, the Nobel Peace Prize, at that very moment, his Gallup poll was at the lowest level of any president since Harry Truman at that time in his- in office. So, you know, he’s got this odd paradoxical situation, where he’s pulling off a Nobel Prize, but his ratings are real low. But here’s the deal: because this week is so climactic, if he can pull off health care, and if he can pull off Copenhagen at the end of the week, then the belief in the White House is, with unemployment already peaking, that he will be on the comeback trail, and the B-plus may be- or even an A-minus will be merited. But if either one of those or both fall apart, and he can’t get them, then B-plus is going to be way too generous.
The full transcript of the Gergen segment, which began 12 minutes into the 10 pm Eastern hour on Monday’s Anderson Cooper 360 program:

COOPER: Cracking down on Wall Street and passing health care reform were two key promises President Obama made while campaigning. But, tonight, as we said, big banks are poised to pay out huge bonuses once again, despite slashing their lending, and Senator Joe Lieberman is threatening to derail the Senate health care bill. It's fair to ask what all of this means for the President’s agenda and whether he’s lost control of it, frankly.

Many of our regular guests have unique access and inside knowledge about the stories of the day. Starting tonight, with senior political analyst David Gergen, we are going to be turning to them for an ‘Insider’s Briefing.’ So, David, dropping the Medicare buy-in, could we be seeing- I mean, a liberal revolt in the wake of this? Because, I mean, a lot of people haven’t been following the minutia of this, but, basically, that idea of expanding Medicare to 55 and above, that was all for liberals, who were angered over the public option being dropped out.

DAVID GERGEN: Yeah. Let’s put this in a larger context, first, Anderson. For a president who’s had more trials than anybody I can remember in a long time, sort of ‘The Perils of Pauline’ all year, this has become a climactic week for his presidency in his first year, because he has to deal with the bankers. He’s got to- he’s desperately trying now to rescue health care and save that, and he’s going to Copenhagen at the end of the week and that potential treaty is also going south. He has got to rescue that.

Now, on this issue of health care, there’s no question that the liberal part of the Democratic Party is increasingly frustrated, angry at the process, because they thought they were going to get a public option. That was- became very central to them, but never central to Barack Obama- central to them. The moderates and centrists said, we don’t want to buy into this. So, the Senate came up and said- okay, instead of doing that, let’s have this Medicare buy-in. Look, Joe Lieberman even supported it some time ago. Lieberman turns against it over the weekend, very firmly. They’re short of the 60 votes, and tonight, they’re doing anything they can at the White House to salvage this, and the reports are they have been pushing Harry Reid to accept Lieberman’s change of heart, to drop Medicare, and I- there’s no sign- there’s nobody in the liberal ranks yet who has said he will break ranks, like a Russ Feingold, but that is potential. And Anderson, there’s also a potential here that the liberals are going to get angry at the President and the White House for not fighting harder to keep people corralled and get more of their views through.

COOPER: But, I mean- so, if he gets Lieberman on board by dropping this expansion of Medicare, they still need- what, Ben Nelson, and they need to figure out some language on abortion that Ben Nelson will support.

GERGEN: That’s right. They conceivably would- if they drop Medicare, could pick up support from Olympia Snowe.

COOPER: Okay.

GERGEN: She’s been very troubled by this Medicare proposal, and maybe they could get Ben Nelson. But, Anderson, there’s one more step in this. The liberals may have to accept in the Senate some form of the Stupak anti-abortion amendment before this over, in order to keep the House on board. So, there’s a - there are a lot of moving parts on this still, but it’s clear the White House is desperate to get to 60 votes this weekend. They are willing to drop darn near anything and move this bill to the right and strip it down of whatever it takes-

COOPER: And that’s because it-

GERGEN: In order to get those 60.

COOPER: That’s because it’s so essential now for the President to be able to say, I got health care reform, whether or not- almost no matter what it looks like at this point?

GERGEN: That’s exactly right. Now, in fairness to the White House, when they started this process, they never thought public option was very important. It’s not been part of the debate, frankly, about- the White House has been for universal access, and people are losing sight of it. This bill does provide near universal access. No president- seven presidents have tried this. None has succeeded. Barack Obama may succeed- insurance reform, some other important reforms. But, to the left, the public option, and, indeed the Medicare buy-in, was a dramatic step toward a single-payer system, which has been- you know, is very much an iconic proposal for a lot on the left-

COOPER: Yeah.

GERGEN: So, this is- the White House is sort of like trying to get a balloon up in the air and just throwing things over the side until you get a little- until you can get a little height on it.

COOPER: I want to play something that President Obama said to Oprah Winfrey last night in that special that aired last night. Let’s watch.

OPRAH WINFREY (from Christmas special with President Obama): What grade would you give yourself for this year?

OBAMA: Good, solid B-plus.

WINFREY: A B-plus?

OBAMA: Yeah. I mean, I think that we have inherited the biggest set of challenges of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

COOPER (live): So, he gives himself a B-plus, his approval ratings hitting a new low- I mean, is he trying to put a game face on a bad situation, or- I mean, does the White House perceive that there are successes on the brink?

GERGEN: They perceive that they have done better than the public thinks. You will remember, with the CNN- we had a big national vote here earlier this year, and people gave him less than a B-plus. And, Anderson, it’s really striking that last week, when he went to Oslo to receive the most prestigious prize in the world, the Nobel Peace Prize, at that very moment, his Gallup poll was at the lowest level of any president since Harry Truman at that time in his- in office. So, you know, he’s got this odd paradoxical situation, where he’s pulling off a Nobel Prize, but his ratings are real low. But here’s the deal: because this week is so climactic, if he can pull off health care, and if he can pull off Copenhagen at the end of the week, then the belief in the White House is, with unemployment already peaking, that he will be on the comeback trail, and the B-plus may be- or even an A-minus will be merited. But if either one of those or both fall apart, and he can’t get them, then B-plus is going to be way too generous.

COOPER: Well, for me, that’s the takeaway from this interview, that this is the climactic week for the President on those three fronts-

GERGEN: Yeah.

COOPER: With the banks-

GERGEN: Yeah.

COOPER: With health care and Copenhagen. David Gergen, we will continue to watch it. Thanks.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center