ON MESSAGE: What Leaders of Parties Do

“I am grateful and encouraged to receive the support of the President of the United States, especially on the day that Barack Obama is named a Nobel Prize [w]inner.”
—Statement from Bill Thompson, after White House spokesman Robert Gibbs affirmed that President Obama supports “the Democratic nominee” for mayor

If that’s all it took to get Thompson so excited, just imagine how ecstatic he’d be right now if Gibbs had, you know, actually mentioned his name.

He didn’t, of course, and that’s the real story of the White House’s Friday (coincidence?) statement about the New York mayor’s race. Compelled by a question from the Daily News, Gibbs allowed only that “the president is the leader of the Democratic Party and as that would support the Democratic nominee.” Then, in his next breath, Gibbs went out of his way to praise Thompson’s opponent, Michael Bloomberg, by name.

We can all probably relate to how Thompson is feeling as a human being right now.

As a middle schooler, I had a small role in a production of A Christmas Carol and I was dreadful. Meanwhile, my friend stole the show as Scrooge. On the way home, my mother told me that she was proud of me and that I had been the best actor onstage—then spent the next 10 minutes talking about what a future my friend has as an actor. I wasn’t that smart, but even I knew her praise of me was purely the obligatory parental kind.

Replace “parental” with “partisan” and the explanation for Gibbs’ statement about Thompson is the same. The simple fact that Gibbs refused to mention him by name while singling Bloomberg out for praise tells us all we need to know about where the president’s head is on this.

Thompson surely knows this as a human being, and it’s got to be frustrating, probably even maddening. But he’s obligated to act like a politician here, which means pretending that Gibbs’ hesitant, feeble words—words that were prompted only by a reporter’s query—somehow constitute something meaningful.

ON MESSAGE: What Leaders of Parties Do