Why, Steve Kroft wanted to know, had President Obama and departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed to a half-hour sit-down with Kroft on “60 Minutes?” Their mutually admiring answer was, in effect, that they wanted to convey, before her departure, just how much of a mutual admiration society they had become in Obama’s first term.
You know, that’s Obama’s Doris Kearns Goodwin administration, the one for which Goodwin’s 2005 book about Lincoln’s political genius, “Team of Rivals,” seems to have convinced the new president that Lincoln was right: There was no greater ally than a defeated rival – one with firsthand experience of just how unfortunate it can be to be on the business end of a victor’s competitive energies.
Lovely. And no doubt true in some small measure, as we saw on “60 Minutes.” But the most persuasive theory being floated is that Obama and his veep, Joe Biden, will have a publicly visible political bromance until the 2016 election and that the “farewell, Hillary” lovefest for Steve Kroft on Sunday night was Obama’s only way to get in front of the story early and declare himself neutral in any presidential campaign succession contest that might develop between Biden and Clinton.
Or, as Obama joked to Kroft when Kroft got close to a 2016 question, “You guys are incorrigible.” (To which Kroft could have replied – if he were a rude sort not interested in a return interview engagement – “true enough but you guys are just as incorrigible in another way. You don’t do anything this overt without considering every future scenario. That’s how you both got where you did.”)
So it was all rather pleasant to watch on the level of, say, a showbiz interlocutor asking things of lovey-dovey cast members in a movie about to open in 2,000 theaters five days later.
There was only one revealing – and weirdly uncomfortable – moment. After Kroft asked the secretary of state if her acceptance of responsibility for the deaths at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi included feeling “guilty on a personal level,” Obama smoothly changed the subject and tried to take the sting out of the moment by telling an anecdote about his much-traveled former secretary of defense, after serving several different presidents, advising Obama early on that the only thing a newcomer can be sure of is that at any given moment someone somewhere in his administration is screwing up.
To which Clinton’s laughter was a hair too enthusiastic in the context of a question about an event that took four American lives, including those of America’s ambassador to Libya. Obama immediately continued talking on a more solemn level, a subtle but suave and definitive presidential way of making sure the tone of things gave no more ammunition to those who launched so much flak at Secretary Clinton during the congressional hearings the week before.
And that, too, of course, was likely another reason for the president and secretary temporarily turning into a TV newsmagazine love duet. It was, no doubt, Obama’s way of coming in after a tough week for Clinton and underscoring just how great in the job he thought she’d been (not to mention how powerful her husband had been on his behalf at the Democratic convention).
Interestingly, Obama didn’t need to. Her worst moment in the public image wars during the congressional grilling was also, oddly, her best. When a tea party senator kept fileting an undersecretary’s inept explanation of the tragedy as an extreme response to some sort of heretical Internet film rather than the homicidal Sept. 11 act of terrorism that it was, Clinton finally exploded, “What difference does it make?” at that stage to bludgeon one State Department underling for selling the wrong narrative in public? They were all there, she said, to make sure it never happens again, not to chalk up points on the board. In her justifiable ire, the woman finally revealed herself in public to be someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. In the context of the decades we have all spent in her well-controlled and judicious company, it was enormously appealing, even endearing.
At the end of Kroft’s half-hour with Obama and Clinton, no one could possibly doubt that the show had been artfully used by the president for his own political purposes. Which, no doubt, is why “60 Minutes” people made jolly well sure its next segment was slam-bang and news-packed, which it was. Scott Pelley interviewed America’s Numero Uno Anti-Doper Travis Tygart to the effect that Lance Armstrong’s much-vaunted contrition to Oprah Winfrey was a load of hooey – riddled with lies and evasions to avoid prosecution.
Right about here, I must confess finding l’affaire Lance utterly baffling. For all his supposed heroism and the undeniable good done by his charity, I never cared a whit about Lance Armstrong and still don’t.
It is, for pity’s sake, all about cycling! I loved riding my bike as a kid (I used to show off doing knee stands on the seat), but there is no single athletic event in the world that inspires less interest in me than the Tour de France. Armstrong, to me, was almost as unnecessary and annoying a celebrity as a Kardashian or a Snooki. (At least he was good at something; and the world certainly benefited from his foundation more than it has from what most of us have done in our lives.)
What was remarkable about that story on “60 Minutes” on Sunday was that the show was, in a sense, saying that Armstrong’s Oprah session was full of prunes. It was one TV institution flexing its muscles in public at another’s expense and doing it with truth, not smarm or snark or lies or envious meanness. And, yes, along the way, it was a lovely way, too, for “60 Minutes” to plug “60 Minutes Sports,” where such reportage is set to appear often.
It was an hour, then, of self-serving genius.
Sunday splendors: The day turned out to be a veritable tubal festival – even more so than usual. The SAG Awards – now named the SAG-AFTRA Awards since the merger of the two showbiz unions – revealed almost nothing for those handicapping the Oscars except:
1) Jennifer Lawrence not only has more strength than expected for Best Actress in “Silver Linings Playbook,” but she has become, at a young age, an uncommonly graceful award accepter and
2) Sure thing Best Actor sweeper Daniel Day-Lewis had the grace during his acceptance speech to give a shout-out to the unnominated Joaquin Phoenix for “The Master.” The SAG folks snubbing Phoenix was almost as idiotic (if more comprehensible) than the Oscars snubbing Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow in the Best Director category.
Best lines: Anne Hathaway, accepting Supporting Actress Award from her guild: “I’m just so glad I have dental.” Tiny Fey accepting for her departing role in “30 Rock”: “I remember Amy Poehler when she was pregnant with Lena Dunham.” Bryan Cranston, about to walk off stage after having been “endowed” with an award for “Breaking Bad:” “Tonight, at least, I am well-endowed.”
Kimmel in prime time: You get a prime-time chance tonight at 10 (Channel 7) to see last Thursday’s remarkable “Jimmy Kimmel Live” episode in which Matt Damon pretended to tie-up Kimmel, hijack the show and bring out a succession of celebrities that a mediocrity like Kimmel couldn’t possibly land – Andy Garcia pretending to be Damon’s Guillermo-like sidekick, Ben Affleck, Nicole Kidman, Gary Oldman, Reese Witherspoon, Demi Moore, etc., etc.
Nothing on the show was all that individually funny – except for Kidman’s quick lap dance of a trussed-up Kimmel – but the idea was so good and so smart and it was all carried off so swiftly that it was a tiny little comic milestone despite itself.