Obama’s playground head games

“You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?”

“You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did.” — a memorable exchange from “Kill Bill, Vol. 1”

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Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal has a story in his new book describing the kind of basketball player President Obama really is.

Shaq describes an exchange Obama had with Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.

Rondo, a streaky shooter, was having a rough playoff series against Obama’s favorite team, the Chicago Bulls, in the playoffs.

Standing with the team at a fundraiser, Obama asked Celtic Ray Allen: “Hey, Ray, why don’t you teach this kid [Rondo] how to shoot?”

Shaq recounts that Celtic teammate Kevin Garnett “told me he saw the look on Rondo’s face and the kid was devastated, embarrassed.”

“Dissed by the president, even though I’m sure Obama didn’t mean any harm,” O’Neal wrote. “Rondo smiled and went along with all of it, but KG told me he could see it in his eyes. It bothered Rondo. It killed him.”


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After the exchange, Rondo went on to shoot terribly in his next game. Shaq writes that the premier point guard even stopped shooting at one point.

Obama’s Bulls won the series.

So yeah, the president’s reelection hopes are in big trouble, but don’t discount him for a minute. For all the lofty, soaring rhetoric of 2008, Obama is first and foremost a rough-and-tumble politician who has no intention of conceding 2012.

After all, Obama is the man who upended the Democratic establishment, outlasting and outmaneuvering the Clinton political machine.

He’s the same guy who scoffed at Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) decision to suspend his campaign when the economy collapsed in 2008 and then went on to a landslide victory.

And he’s the same guy who will leave quarts of blood on the floor in the coming months to defend his office.

Obama likes to get into people’s heads. It might be a coincidence that Obama called Texas Gov. Rick Perry about the wildfires in the Lone Star State just hours before Perry was participating in his first debate. And it might not.

On the golf course, on the basketball court and even in the Cabinet Room, the president has shown repeatedly that he is a mindfreak, to use a term from the basketball courts.

Obama has already used his office and the current economic environment to set the tone and shape of the 2012 debate, and he thinks he has found a way to win back his base after years of abuse.

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Standing in the Rose Garden on Monday, Obama was clearly back in fighting shape. He threatened vetoes and launched a class war he knew he was starting, despite his denials.

Obama is far more cagey and nimble as a candidate than as president.

Professor Obama has been described by his allies and enemies alike as everything from weak to cowardly.

But while President Obama might give up on the public option, candidate Obama won’t give an inch on public opinion. If Republicans want to win, they will have to take it from him.

The Rose Garden event seemed to be a middle finger to every analyst and pundit who has warned that Obama has lost Democrats.

He is now in a position to say that he tried repeatedly to compromise with Republicans, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wouldn’t answer the phone. Obama’s not partisan, he’ll say, he simply had no choice but to fight for the American people alone.

In Chicago, campaign officials are openly talking about a campaign built on “contrast.”

For the uninitiated, “contrast” is code for mud, and lots of it.

Obama and his team, embattled and bruised as they are, are gearing up for a war.

White House officials smile coyly these days when asked about Obama’s would-be opponents, promising to introduce them to voters at the appropriate time.

And there are no illusions within the building about the kind of campaign 2012 will be. Officials often say that the race will start out at 50-50, and they acknowledge there will be carnage. 

They have an eerie, seemingly unfounded confidence about the shape of Obama’s reelect.

They know what many in the media know — Obama has proven repeatedly that he is never more dangerous than when he has been counted out.

Ask McCain. Ask Hillary. Heck, ask Rondo.

How many times did healthcare look dead? How often did Obama the candidate look like the political neophyte he was, especially in the early days of 2007? And how many times has he proved his early obituary writers wrong?

Obama is unquestionably in trouble. He will not be in any position to run a campaign based on hard numbers, simply because the hard numbers are bleak. Instead it will be a campaign of sharp words, and lots of them.

The election is 14 months away. Obama is the president of the United States. And he will raise more money than any sitting president before him.

So opponents can call him socialist, Kenyan, a failure or a criminal. But they would be foolish to start calling him one-and-done.

It’s not going to be that easy.

Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill.


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