Contest winners: Obama’s words, the real and the imagined

Al Kamen
Columnist December 1, 2011

President Obama has a few rhetorical tics. “Let me be clear . . . ,” he often says, before, as one Loop reader pointed out, launching into something arcane or inscrutable. “Here’s the thing . . . ” is another preface he frequently employs.

Many entries in the Loop contest — to identify signature quotes for which Obama will be remembered — predicted these would become his remembered phrases.

Our judges, however, didn’t agree. Many of the hundreds of submissions included quotes widely and wrongly attributed to Obama. The Internet has a way of propagating such myths, for example, attributing to Abraham Lincoln: “The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.”

And so “leading from behind” cannot — no matter how catchy — be a winning entry, since Obama never used the phrase.

In fact, most of the winning entries were not examples of particularly soaring or clever rhetoric, but rather represented Obama’s blunter, more visceral moments. As a whole, the entries reflected the full range of sentiment toward Obama: from anger to frustration to admiration. They expressed his professorial demeanor, his hesitance and his optimism.

Here are our winners, in no particular order.

What he already said

●“I’d rather be a really good one-term president . . . ” (John Rawot, engineering consultant, Bentleyville, Ohio.)

●“This is not class warfare, it’s math.” (David Addams, executive director of the Olivers Scholar Program, New York.)

●To bank CEOs in 2009: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” (Jesse Bethea, a student at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio.)

●On the death of Osama bin Laden: “Justice has been done.” (Marilyn Bridgette, retired Army and now with a technology company, Dumfries.)

●“The nation I’m most interested in building is our own.” (Linda Robinson, adjunct senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, Northern Virginia.)

●“They drove the economy into the ditch and now they want the keys back.” (Ed Chan, wine consultant, New York.)

●“Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” (Don Davidson, retiree, Warwick, R.I.)

●“We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.” (Jason Everett, Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, Fairfax.)

●“The question is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” (A State Department employee who did not want to be named.)

●“Eat your peas.” (Joan Tindell, retired middle school science teacher, Tucson.)

What he should say

●“Lets take some of the money used to chauffeur fat cats down Wall Street and use it to repave Main Street.” (Jeff Szorik, CEO of Optio Inc., Lake Bluff, Ill.)

●“We are one people, but a lot of congressional Republicans haven’t realized it yet.” (Kirk Augustine, retired government employee, Camano Island, Wash.)

●“We’re not going to wait for Congress.” (Michael Denison, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park.)

●“This is my bottom line, but I’m willing to settle for less.” (Brent Cogswell, Air Force retiree now a part-time airport shuttle driver, Columbia.)

●“I foresee a long and abundant American spring . . . a world thriving on core American values. More freedom abroad and greater prosperity at home.” (Jack Nargundkar, senior marketing consultant, Germantown.)

●“It’s the stupid economy.” (Martin O’Connor, federal employee, Round Hill, Va.)

●“Damn the Republicans, full speed ahead!” (Adlai Boyd, retired Presbyterian minister and professor, Montreat, N.C.)

●“Wait . . . that’s not the thing anymore . . . here’s the latest thing . . . ” (Peter Young, federal agency worker, Washington.)

●“You expected too much.” (An online commenter with the user name johntherancher.)

●“We could have.” (Another one from the Web, user name newagent99.)

Congratulations to the winners. Thanks to all who entered. And a special thanks to our judges: Carlos Lozada, editor of The Post’s Outlook section; Adam Clymer, former national political reporter and editor for the New York Times; and Ann Gerhart, features editor in The Post’s Style section.

Peace gives a chance

The United Arab Emirates, the small but strategically located nation on the Persian Gulf, was set to hold its National Day event Thursday evening. Nothing remarkable about that, but the celebration’s venue — the U.S. Institute of Peace — has raised a few eyebrows.

The institute, housed in a snappy new building off the Mall, is funded by Congress to prevent and mitigate international conflict and to enhance U.S. security.

The State Department’s human rights report for 2010, in its dry tone, notes that in the UAE “arbitrary and incommunicado detention remained a problem, the judiciary lacked independence” and “the government interfered with privacy and restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press . . . assembly, association, and religion.”

In addition, “legal and societal discrimination against women and noncitizens was pervasive. Trafficking in persons continued . . . ” Sounds like a fine place.

The USIP, which rents out space in the building to pay for operational costs, says it rents only to organizations, nonprofits and governments and won’t allow fundraisers. Government requests, we understand, are reviewed case by case. In this case, Washington maintains good relations with the UAE and lots of Hill folks were scheduled to attend.

Did we mention that the country in question has the sixth-largest oil reserves in the world?

The holiday travel season

An anonymous tipster ­
e-mailed to say that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and his wife, Hadassah, would be leading a congressional delegation on a trip to the Middle East, starting in Jerusalem on Christmas.

Our tipster was concerned that “ a lot of people in support of this visit” (ground support, advance people, embassy security and so forth) “won’t have a Christmas, though comp time or double time may be in order.”

Lieberman’s office tells us the planning is still in a very preliminary stage. “At this point, Senator Lieberman is the only senator on the trip,” we were told. “The tentative plan is to travel by commercial air to the Middle East — although mil air [a military jet] may be used once in the Middle East.”

Well, not to worry. The dates aren’t set and, besides, we are completely confident that Lieberman would never require people to work over Christmas to staff his trip — as critical as that jaunt may be to U.S. interests during his last year in the Senate.

Imperfect pitch

Surely the folks at the European Union could have come up with something better. We got an interesting invitation the other day from Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida, who heads the delegation of the European Union to the United States.

The invite was a reception to an important cultural event on Dec. 7 at the E.U. delegation’s offices on K Street NW. (These events are always worth attending — the food and wine are excellent.)

The ambassador says the do is to “launch EUNIC in Washington.” Ah, this has something to do with certain gentlemen of yore who used to attend to queens and look after harems?

No, it stands for European Union National Institutes for Culture. Phew! Possibly something was lost in translation? Maybe they might want to move some words around?

An era ends

House Sergeant at Arms Wilson “Bill” Livingood announced Thursday that he’s retiring next month after 17 years in this job and, before that, 33 years with the Secret Service.

With Emily Heil

Twitter: @InTheLoopWP
The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop

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