W. Kamau Bell is a comedian, activist and star of his own show on FX, “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.” He writes a weekly column analyzing President Obama’s actions, words and thoughts leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election. This column is Bell’s first.
I never have any idea what President Barack Obama is thinking. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that he is not a good communicator. He is one of the best in the oration business. He’s got a preacher’s cadence, a comic’s timing and a professor’s ability to bum you out with last-minute homework assignments. (“Come on, Prez! How come I have to be the change?”) Still, I never really feel like I know what he is thinking, and I’m not sure he wants me to know.
I just always get the feeling that Obama is playing his cards so close to the vest that you could only see what he was holding if you had an X-ray machine. To use another clumsy game metaphor: It’s not that everyone else is playing checkers while he plays chess; it’s that everyone else is playing checkers while he plays that weird multilevel future chess from “Star Trek.” I understand it on one level. Being America’s first black president has to be the thinnest of tight ropes to walk. And as a biracial, Hawaiian-born, internationally raised, Ivy League graduated Muslim ... (Oops. Sorry. I got caught up in a run there. Now, I know how you feel, Madonna.) As a guy who has spent his life walking extremely tight ropes, Obama has been forced to become extremely adept at it. So when he speaks, I always get the feeling that he is being extra careful and extra thoughtful in a way that say — just pulling a president at random — President George W. Bush never was.
So this past Tuesday, when Obama got all tough-talk on Iran in front of the United Nations, I just did that thing that I have learned to do during his presidency. I told myself that he doesn’t really think that stuff and that he was only saying it to sew up some of America’s hate base in the last few weeks before the election. I tell myself that it is a necessary evil and that after the election, he will back off the tough talk (and hopefully the drones) and magically come to his senses. You know, like how he did when he “went through an evolution” and realized that men marrying men and women marrying women was actually an okay thing. When I heard him announce that on ABC News, I thought, “The only evolution you went through was realizing that the polls showed that people who aren’t going to vote for you and people who are against gay marriage are one and the same. And so you could finally let your true feelings be known after years of publicly flirting with marriage equality.” I feel like the only time I’ve seen an unfiltered Obama was the ashen look on his face when he was picked up by the pizza guy in Florida.
On the other hand, I always get the feeling that I know exactly what Mitt Romney is thinking. Right now, it is something like: “Am I actually going to lose the presidency to this man cursed with the mark of Cain? I’m a billionaire ... Oops! I meant millionaire, according to my taxes, which you’ll never see!” Unlike Obama, Romney seems to either say everything he is thinking (see the 47 percent video) or he wears his internal monologue on his face. And right now his face seems to be screaming, “WHO’S IDEA WAS THIS?” The “this” changes from Paul Ryan to making a joke about windows on planes during a story about your wife’s plane being on fire to running for president in the first place. And this is why I can’t wait for the debates. Because when you pit a guy who is unflappable, like Obama, against a guy who is a walking flap, like Mitt Romney, well, you get appointment TV of the highest order.
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