Is Barack Obama Fiona Apple or Julia Gillard?

If President Obama wants to be reelected in November, he’d better show up to the next debate as the combative Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and not Fiona Apple.

The below video, to my mind, is THE VIDEO for explaining President Obama’s problem in the polls at the moment. While enraged right-wing hooligans mean to dismantle key features of the middle class American diner–from the housing deduction to Medicare to General Motors to student loans–and start fresh wars and overturn Roe v. Wade, Barack Obama is Buddha-calm about it, like Fiona Apple. If anything captures this election’s Zeitgeist, it’s this:


Below, by contrast, is Julia Gillard dressing down a sexist and hypocritical right-winger for going after one of her colleagues for sexism. This woman is dynamite and Obama needs to make a quick study of her because he simply can’t stay in Fiona Apple’s inner Kansas anymore. As Michael Tomasky wrote this morning,

Mr. President, 70 million or more Americans are counting on you. They voted for you, they’re planning on voting for you again, and they want you to fight for them. If you lose, you let them down horribly—and you damage their lives. They’re 47 percenters, a lot of these folks. They need you. If the other side gets in, you’ll be fine, but they’re screwed.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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11 Responses to Is Barack Obama Fiona Apple or Julia Gillard?

  1. pauladkin says:

    Gillard’s speech is an example of good, Australian frankness. Call a spade a spade. Telling someone what they’re really like, if it’s describing the truth, is not bad manners, it’s doing them a favour. And a lot of politicians need to receive a lot of favours and tell them what they’re really like, and remind them that we know what their real intentions are every time they lie.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I genuinely don’t know if Obama has it in him. We’ll find out on Tuesday, but Obama, when he’s one-on-one with people, is polite and euphemistic. He expects others to get his nuance and implication without saying it directly. But he’s going to have to be dead firm to Romney’s face and show unmanufactured passion.

      I think Obama is intimidated a bit by Romney, intellectually. He knows that Romney is a Harvard grad like him and smart. He knows that Romney can think fast on his feet. But Obama doesn’t have to be smarter or more articulate than Romney–he just has to meet every Romney claim and every Romney moment of passion with a counter claim and a counter passion. Obama has the issues on his side. There’s no heavy lifting on his side. The majority of the electorate wants out of Afghanistan in 2014, they want Medicare not Vouchercare, etc. Obama just has to not look dominated by Romney (as he did in the first debate).

      Obama has a wonderful set point: he’s calm under fire. I wish I had Obama’s cool. It makes him good in many circumstances, but when he’s got to return fire he’s got to find a way to switch off his internal Fiona Apple.


  2. pauladkin says:

    Most likely Obama has a guilt complex for not delivering what he promised, whereas Romney would be proud of taking and never giving. But the difference is obvious, if the electorate can’t see it, they deserve the product they decide to buy. The problem is, with US politics, the rest of the world also get what the American voters buy and we don’t get a say in it, even though we have to suffer the consequences just as much, or sometimes more, than the American citizens do.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      It’s a bit like a communicable disease. If Obama can win this time, the pathologies within the Republican Party can be largely contained within it. Republicans can fight among themselves for a couple of years. It’s highly unlikely that, as the demographics of the country shift over the next decade, that Republicans will be able to lean as far to the right as they have over the past decade.

      But if the electorate rewards the Republican Party with a victory, the pathology spreads to all Americans, and, yes, to the world. We probably go back to Bush-style global swagger.

      On the other hand, Romney may surprise (if he’s elected). He may govern as a moderate and make some hard budget decisions on the assumption that he’ll be the executive for only one term. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.


  3. Iain McMahon says:

    I think that there is sometimes value in being aggressive (what your opponents might call “strident”) but sometimes there is value in being cool, calm, and collected.

    The Aussie PM is a good example because while her speech will get favourable response from some it could also come across as overly-aggressive and perhaps a little too “black and white” (unreasonable) to others.

    I don’t think there is a magic bullet strategy in something as complex as politics. Even less so when it comes to actually persuading other human beings to side with you.

    I would love to see Obama – in fact, any politician – being as blunt and direct as Gillard. I’m from New Zealand (SE of Australia) and usually feel that our politicians appear sleazy, mince words, and are always using double-speak and being avoidant of any actual substance. I just don’t have any idea about how society would react to that in general.

  4. colinhutton says:

    It is interesting, as an Australian, to see what a different take people in other countries have on Gillard’s ‘speech’ (it was actually a response in parliment to a question by the opposition) when it is divorced from its context. Within its actual current political context, it is remarkable here principally for its confected emotion and hypocritical content.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      Because of the hypocrisy of Tea Party fundamentalists and Republican politicians, and their delight in their own mawkish nostalgia for the 1950s, Gillard’s dress-down is satisfying to us weedy American liberals. It’s one of those “Emperor-has-no-clothes” moments.

      Style-wise, if you want to know how American liberals generally are, see Fiona Apple above, or the classic “smoke that ass” scene in the film, “High Fidelity” (especially the character, “Dick”).

      • colinhutton says:

        Nothing wrong with deriving satisfaction from a good kick-ass performance after transposing(?) it to a different context. I am sure many women will derive legitimate satisfaction from interpreting it as a response to their own experiences.
        I enjoyed the clips, thanks. I have a feeling that the Fiona Apple clip could also embed well in your ‘Clash of Generations’ post of a few days ago. The GFC is not over and that $16t could wreak mayhem in the US and global economies.

  5. Santi Tafarella says:

    This is near to the “smoke that ass” scene, but doesn’t include it. Dick is the bald guy in the v-neck.

  6. jamal says:

    I agree with Obama having a guilt complex… it took a huge misstep like his debate performance for Axelrod, Plouffe and the” wailing of us,” on the left to finally see what we’ve been screaming at them since almost giving in to republicans over the Debt Crisis. … the internal WH battle too dumb down the campaign along with a refusal to fight, Joe gave us that fight, Obama now has no other choice!!

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      You make a great point. You may be right that the error will make Obama stronger over the long term (if he gets a couple of more years). Now he can’t escape the confrontation he has largely avoided or left to surrogates. His instincts are cautious, though, and he may figure out some way to find his way back to the cautious Obama–the “No drama Obama.” The danger is that he ends up being what I would call, “No show O.”


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