Bam on ‘The View’

Obama communicates, even without words

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BARACK Obama reminded the women of “The View” on Friday that he was “surrounded by women” at home. From left, his hosts, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Steve Fenn/ABC
March 29, 2008
 
SENATOR Barack Obama didn’t go on “The View” on Friday solely to talk about race and the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. He also wanted to address the gender issue. And if the fluttery response of the show’s five co-hosts is any harbinger, Mr. Obama will not have any trouble assuaging female voters if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton drops out of the Democratic race for the White House.
 
Barbara Walters told Mr. Obama he was “sexy-looking.” Sherri Shepherd announced that she had shifted her support from Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Obama; she made Joy Behar temporarily switch seats with her during a break so she could chat up the candidate. Even Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a Republican, told Mr. Obama how moved she was by his speech to the 2004 Democratic convention.
 
Whoopi Goldberg did not gush as much, but her final words could not have been much comfort to Mr. Obama’s Democratic rival. At the sign off, Ms. Goldberg offered the Republican nominee equal time on the show, saying, “John McCain, we’d still like to talk to you, too.” Ms. Behar prompted her, adding, “And Hillary.” Ms. Goldberg did not appear chagrined by her oversight. “Everybody,” she said.
 
For politicians, “The View,” on ABC, is a halfway house in between a CNN interrogation and the razzing of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” The five women mix spirited debate of what they call “hot topics” with vivid description of hot flashes. The talk show is neither totally serious nor completely frivolous, but it is an estrogen-intense zone. For a male guest, the hardest part is navigating the diverse and somewhat prickly personalities who sit on either side.
 
Mr. Obama, who has run the gamut of news shows in recent weeks to defuse the ado over his relationship with Mr. Wright, had no trouble finding longwinded words to demarcate his allegiance to his longtime pastor. “Had the Reverend not retired and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws,” he said, “then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying there at the church.”
 
Mr. Obama used body language to bridge the gender gap. The candidate who is sometimes attacked by feminists as a golden youth passing over them on his way to the old boys’ club reminded the co-hosts that he was “surrounded by women” at home.
 
He patted Ms. Behar’s arm and whispered so intimately into Ms. Walters’s ear that Ms. Hasselbeck accused them of “canoodling.” Mr. Obama is an effective speaker, but he is just as smooth at wordless communication: he mixed a cool and somewhat princely demeanor with warm smiles and touches.
 
He was discerning about whom to embrace, when and how. When he walked onto the set, at an elegant loping pace, Mr. Obama tightly hugged Ms. Behar, Ms. Shepherd and Ms. Goldberg; he gave Ms. Walters something closer to a Hamptons air kiss. And he was even more careful with Ms. Hasselbeck, who was intent on chiding him about his ties to Mr. Wright. He shook her hand.
 
When interrupted on television, many politicians start talking louder and faster to mow down their opponent’s point. Mr. Obama has a more winning way of encouraging others to speak up. “Go ahead,” he told Ms. Hasselbeck when she cut him off. “No, no, please,” he urged. She did not hold out very long. Ms. Shepherd told Mr. Obama that after listening to his speech on race she wanted to “leave ‘The View’ and campaign for you” – she quickly corrected herself, saying she wouldn’t quit the show but would work for him on weekends.
 
There was only one moment when Mr. Obama did not appear to have his hosts entranced, and that came when he was asked if his battle with Mrs. Clinton was turning ugly. As Mr. Obama recited a gracious rote response, “She was my friend before this contest started, she’s going to be my friend after this contest started – after this contest ends,” Ms. Goldberg looked away and fiddled with her hair, and Ms. Walters stared down at her lap, unable to suppress a smile that, loosely translated, signaled, “Yes, and I am Marie of Romania.”
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