They used to call Bill Clinton the Big Dog, because wherever he went, people paid attention. His growl always drew a crowd.
Well, while President Trump was napping this week, the Sleek Dog got off the porch.
Former President Obama had always planned to model his post-presidential life after the leads of other ex-presidents, like George W. Bush, who paints, or Jimmy Carter, who builds houses for poor people.
He was, he said the other day, “intent on following a wise American tradition of ex-presidents exiting the political stage, making room for new voices and new ideas.”
Turns out, the stakes are too high to remain above the fray.
On Friday, in a speech to students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and on Saturday at a rally in Anaheim for supporters of Democratic congressional candidates in contested Southern California districts, Obama made one thing clear: The muzzle is off.
And you know what else?
Since Trump has spent his presidency trashing Obama, dismantling his legacy piece by piece and making racists feel safe again, the Sleek Dog, whose aloof ways are legendary, has gotten downright snarly.
He called Trump shameless. A fear monger. A demagogue promising “simple fixes to complex problems.” A bully. He accused Trump of “toxic corruption,” of being responsible for the country’s “downward spiral.”
He blamed a spineless Republican Congress for allowing Trump to undermine the nation’s international alliances, to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin — “the former head of the KGB,” as Obama reminded the crowd — and for “actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack.”
“In a healthy democracy,” Obama said, “there’s some checks and balances on this kind of behavior, this kind of inconsistency, but right now there’s none.”
We are in a moment where no one who cares about the fate of the nation can comfortably sit on the sidelines.
Welcome back, Sleek Dog. What took you so long?
Doesn’t it seem like eons ago that Michelle Obama stood onstage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and delivered that memorable line about civility: “When they go low, we go high”?
It seemed so reassuring at the time. Turns out, the line was better as prophecy than as advice.
What followed was a torrent of pettiness and ugliness from Trump, his associates, and his fans. “Lock her up!” said the future national security advisor who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Nice is so overrated.
“We never know what kind of sludge is going to roll out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said Saturday as he welcomed about 750 Democrats to a small ballroom in the Anaheim Convention Center.
Obama strolled onstage Saturday, dressed casually in slacks and shirtsleeves. He was less biting than he’d been in Illinois the day before. Hey, Sleek Dog can only stay nasty for so long. Unlike our current president, it’s just not in his nature.
“There is no set of issues we can’t solve if we are working together,” Obama said, sounding very much like the optimistic cheerleader of years past. “It’s always tempting for politicians for their own gain and people in power to try to see if they can divide people, scapegoat folks, turn them on each other, because when that happens, you get gridlock and government doesn’t work and people get cynical and decide not to participate.
“And when people don’t participate, that vacuum is filled by lobbyists and special interests and we get into a downward spiral where people get discouraged and think nothing is going to make a difference. And that unfortunately is the spiral we have been on for the past couple years.”
If Democrats retake the House in November — and a handful of traditionally Republican seats in California could make the difference — many citizens will look upon Obama’s return to the political fray this week as the beginning of an American restoration.
A restoration of integrity.
And, possibly even, of the ideal of bipartisanship, strangled by the current chief executive, then dumped by the side of the road in Crazytown, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s nickname for the White House, according to Bob Woodward in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House.”
Trump’s response to Obama’s attack in Illinois? He said he fell asleep. It was his idea of a clever putdown. Instead, it inspired an outpouring of mockery on Twitter. (“Trump ‘fell asleep’ during Barack Obama’s speech because it wore him out looking up all those words in the dictionary,” quipped screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer.)
In truth, it’s the Sleek Dog who has been asleep.
“You can feel people saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” Obama said Saturday. “We’re going to kick off our bedrooms slippers, we’re putting on our marching shoes.”
Nap time is over.