After Barack Obama mentioned him by name at a D.N.C. fund-raiser in New York on Tuesday night, Bill Thompson released the following statement:
“I am excited and proud to receive the endorsement of the President. To have the president of United States get involved in a New York City mayoral race and endorse me, illustrates that he believes I will win and that I can lead this city.”
But it’s questionable, to put it politely, whether what Obama said at the event really constitutes and endorsement, much less a decision by the president to “get involved” in the mayoral campaign.
All Obama really did was acknowledge Thompson’s attendance at the dinner—after first acknowledging all of the other local Democratic dignitaries who were present, including Nita Lowey, Anthony Weiner, Joe Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, Steve Israel, John Liu and Bill de Blasio.
“And a great city comptroller, our candidate for mayor, my friend, Billy Thompson is in the house,” is all Obama said when he finally got to Thompson’s name. And that was it. From there, the president plowed into the body of his speech, never touching on the mayor’s race again.
It’s understandable why the Thompson campaign would try to play this up as some momentous affirmation of support from Obama, a genuine rock star with the city’s Democratic-heavy electorate.
But Obama’s shout-outs, to Thompson and all of the others, are actually a standard component of presidential speechmaking. Every time Obama makes a road trip, custom dictates that he begin his remarks by singling out any prominent local politicians who happen to be present. All of his predecessors did this, too.
Obama has tweaked the genre by frequently using the phrase “in the house”—not exactly the phrasing that Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush used. But the game is still the same. And in that sense, Thompson really isn’t any more special than the hundreds of local mayors, congressmen and other leaders that Obama has saluted at the top of his speeches this year.
For example, at a recent event in New Orleans, Obama was obligated to acknowledge Louisiana’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal—the same man who refused some of Obama’s stimulus money, delivered the G.O.P. response to his State of the Union address, and is now flirting with running for president in 2012.
“I want to thank the governor of the great state of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who is here,” Obama said at the event. “Bobby is doing a good job.”
For the record, Jindal did not issue a statement afterward claiming to be overwhelmed by the president’s support and willingness to get involved in Louisiana politics.
Although, in fairness, things could have been worse for Thompson: At least Obama got his name right—which is more than can be said for poor Dutch Ruppersberger, the fourth-term Baltimore area congressman whom the president referred to as “Butch” during the shout-out section of a speech in Maryland last month.
The futility of Thompson’s hype effort becomes even more apparent when you compare Obama’s comment Tuesday night to what a real presidential endorsement looks and feels like.
That effect will be on full display in New Jersey tonight, when Obama will join Jon Corzine in a roomful of cheering Democrats and—with cameras from every New York television affiliate rolling—loudly sing his praises, urge his re-election, and pose with him for photographs.
Obama did the same thing in July, when he appeared at a Corzine rally in Holdel—a rally that was designed for the Corzine campaign to record video of the president loudly endorsing and embracing Corzine and turn it into a television ad. “I want you to know I’m proud to stand with a man who wakes up every day thinking about your future and the future of Jersey—and that’s your governor, Jon Corzine!” Obama thundered at that rally.
Compared to that, what has Obama given the Thompson campaign? The chance to tell reporters that, if you read the 18 words of Obama’s 3,600-word speech that dealt with Thompson, it sounds like the president—using vague, indirect language—endorsed his mayoral campaign?
If that’s “getting involved,” I’d sure love to see what standing on the sidelines would look like.