WASHINGTON — Jan. 5, 2011 – Our nation is in mourning over the announcement that Robert Lane Gibbs will be stepping down as press secretary next month … or at least those of us who deal in humor are. Press secretary “Glib” (as I like to refer to him) has provided a great service to the United States. He has been a compassionate defender of the president, a vital interpreter for the vice president, and a constant source of material for those of us who like to poke fun at politics.
Who can forget his uncomfortable moments trying to reframe inappropriate comments by others? I will certainly miss Gibbs’ explanations, which typically began with “What I think he/she was trying to say …” His well-meaning “clarifications” have provided fodder for countless satirical rants. He will, indeed, be missed.
There really isn’t any “thanks” associated with the job of press secretary. Any individual who holds the position is precluded from expressing his or her own thoughts, and Gibbs was no exception. During World War II, there was a popular phrase: “Loose lips sink ships.” Today, particularly given the speed of communication, they can sink political careers. Gibbs often had to step into the fray after verbal shots had already been fired. Given the vice president’s propensity for premature verbal ejaculation, Gibbs had to know that he had his work cut out for him when he accepted the job.
Personally, I thought Gibbs’ deer-in-the-headlights demeanor was somewhat endearing. You almost had to feel sorry for him when he fumbled issues on the goal line. There were many times I wish he could have accepted a penalty and replayed the down. I apologize for the football metaphors, but they seem to fit. Besides, this is the season of bowls and playoff games.
I speculated that the end was near for Gibbs this past summer when he violated the trust of his position by telling the truth. Perhaps it was the constant pressure that was being exerted by the BP oil spill that weakened his will, but in any event, he began to contradict information pertaining to meetings and conversations that had allegedly taken place and to even suggest that the Administration’s handling of the crisis may have left something to be desired. Then, he capped off an unprecedented flirtation with the truth by suggesting that the Democrats might actually lose control of the House of Representatives in the November election. Luckily, then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought sanity back into the debate by admonishing Robert for his foolishness and reassuring America that the Democrats would retain control of the House. I knew that it was time to put away my fears with regard to that issue when Vice President Joe Biden echoed the speaker’s sentiments.
From my perspective, Gibbs was never the same. The false sense of bravado required by the position seemingly had left him. He appeared more “normal” to me; almost comfortable with the fact that he had faced the truth and even spoken it. It was inevitable that he would step down.
His reign will go down in history. Gibbs could speak of the campaign promises of “bipartisanship, transparency and accountability” with a straight face; he could support blaming the Bush Administration for almost everything that had occurred since man first walked erect; and he could call Republicans “The Party of No” with the best of them (with the possible exception of Pelosi). His cavalier dismissal of legitimate questions; his disingenuous smile; his nonapologetic apologies for the vice president’s gaffes … all made for great theatre. He even drove experienced, elderly journalists to their breaking point. He was the perfect political press secretary until he surrendered to the truth.
Perhaps it’s in one’s DNA: a genetic defect that weakens even the strongest among us. “The truth shall set you free” has been at the root of many a politician’s collapse. I have even seen such weakness creeping into the president’s political veneer. In a Nov. 4, interview with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes, the president stated, “Well you know, that’s one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you’re campaigning, I think you’re liberated to say things without thinking about, ‘Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this.’” Whoa! That’s starting to get a little bit too “real” for a president.
In any event, I’ll miss Gibbs. It was easy to write political satire with press secretary “Glib” around. He almost wrote it for you. I can only hope that his successor will embrace the historical demands of the job and feed us a steady diet of rhetoric and platitudes that will make us feel at home again. I want to thank Gibbs and wish him well, and may he leave the traditional gift to his successor: a flak jacket.
T.J. O’Hara is a political satirist, media personality and author of three new books: The Left isn’t Right, The Right is Wrong, and The National Platform of Common Sense. To order, go to http://tjohara.com/archives-2/books/.