Why exactly does President Obama need to get angry? I keep hearing Obama’s fabled coolness is failing him on the devastating oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Supposedly, Obama needs to yell and scream, rant and rave at BP before the American people will take him seriously. This raises a question: How mad does a president have to get to be good enough for the job?
Columnists across the political spectrum have implored Obama to man up or at least show up. In the Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan grumbled, “The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen. This is a terrible thing to see in a political figure, and a startling thing in one who won so handily and shrewdly in 2008.”
Over at the New York Times, Maureen Dowd snarked (because snark is what she does best), “Too often it feels as though Barry is watching from a balcony, reluctant to enter the fray until the clamor of the crowd forces him to come down. The pattern is perverse. The man whose presidency is rooted in his ability to inspire withholds that inspiration when it is most needed.”
Since the ladies are handing out directions on how “Barry” should be driving the country, I’ve got one for them. Let the guy do the job he was elected to and get over the fact that he didn’t hire either “Mo” or “Peg” to be his adviser.
Even Obama supporter Spike Lee jumped on the Get Mad As Hell bandwagon saying on CNN, “”One time, go off! If there’s any one time to go off, this is it, because this is a disaster.”
Is Obama pounding a table or strategically dropping an F-bomb really what’s needed here? Playing the Angry Black Man is not a role well suited to his temperament. It runs contrary to his character and who we thought he was.
At times Obama is too professorial. He does lack passion for what he believes in. His demeanor can lead both friends and foes to wonder precisely what does this guy care about? Showing grace under pressure has served Obama well so far. If anything Obama fumbles the ball when he over-corrects and tries to be just an ordinary guy. He’s not an ordinary guy. No one who becomes the President of the United States remains ordinary even if they start out that way.
Obama showed a crack in his cool persona in The Audacity of Hope. Writing about Alan Keyes whose bare-knuckled campaign against him in the 2004 Illinois Senatorial campaign challenged Obama’s faith, racial identity and even whether Jesus would vote for him, Obama said, “In other words, Alan Keyes was an ideal opponent; all I had to do was keep my mouth shut and start planning my swearing-in ceremony. And yet, as the campaign progressed, I found him getting under my skin in a way that few people ever have. When our paths crossed during the campaign, I often had to suppress the rather uncharitable urge to either taunt him or wring his neck.”
Keyes wasn’t alone in trying to suggest Obama is a little too wimpy for his good. That suggestion has hung over Obama when he entered the 2008 presidential race and continues even now. Is Obama tough enough? Republicans quetion it, Democrats wonder it, allies aren’t sure of it and enemies try to test him on it.
During the Iowa campaign, former rival and full-time man-whore, John Edwards, said Obama was too “nice” for the job.
“Barack is not angry or confrontational enough to get it done. He’s too nice a guy; he’s too conciliatory. He can’t bring change about. I do not need lectures about how to bring about change. I have not just talked about change. I’ve made it happen,” Edwards said.
Had John McCain won this wouldn’t even be an issue. Nobody doubted McCain’s temper; it was well-established and volcanic at times. The fear with McCain was would he lose it when a cooler head was needed. Hillary Clinton merged a chilly outward disposition with a go for the jugular reputation. You think of Clinton and “too nice” isn’t the descriptor that initially leaps to mind.
I’ve seen Obama annoyed and even flat-out mad when he was jousting with Clinton for the nomination. It may have been forgotten now but look back at some of those debates and there’s no disguising how much these two people clearly dislike each other.
Clinton and Obama have reconciled their difference now and seem to have a cordial working relationship, but they probably still aren’t Facebook friends.
After eight years of George Bush’s knee-jerk reactions and shoot-from-the-lip rhetoric, Obama was elected president precisely because we wanted someone who thought before they spoke and was cool under fire and analytical and discerning. That’s what we got, so why do we want him to be somebody else now?
I’m not saying I don’t wish Obama would at times manifest a bit of Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton’s bluntness. LBJ and Clinton were two presidents well known for their fondness of chewing on someone’s ass every so often. If Obama does throw temper tantrums in the Oval Office that information is well buttoned up. Not even millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf Coast has been enough to get a “damn, damn, DAMN!!” out of him.
We’re probably not going to get to see that side of Obama. It’s not that he doesn’t have a mean streak. It’s that if he does he’s not going to let it show. Noonan and Dowd should remember being a non-threatening Black man who was slow to anger was a major reason why White women like them felt comfortable voting for Obama. He sold himself to America as a guy who didn’t get mad and didn’t want to get even. Now if he’s not on The Larry King Show spitting nails in a mouth-foaming rage at BP’s negligence, he’s not taking this situation to heart?
This is the Obama we voted for. In the fishbowl that is Washington, everything the President does is observed, scrutinized and parsed to determine what it might mean. Obama doesn’t seem interested in sharing what pisses him off with the public. That part of his emotional make-up is something he chooses to keep to himself. In Dowd’s column she dubbed Obama, “President Spock.” Is the alternative when stuff jumps off and things get hot, we would be better off with President James T. Kirk playing to the camera, spouting empty platitudes and overacting outrageously?
What made Obama preferable to Bush and McCain was his coolness. He ran a drama-free campaign for the presidency and he’s tried, not always successfully, to run his Administration the same way. Events may conspire to compel the president to act against his nature, but he remains supremely confident that despite the clamor to get mad as hell and not take it anymore, his approach will prevail. After all, this is a guy who stood before joint session of Congress while a Republican wingnut shouted he was a liar. Inside, you know he had to be seething. From the outside, he reacted with a disapproving look as if the other guy had belched at the dinner table.
When it comes to exercising restraint in the face of intense provocation, Obama never claimed to the Second Coming of Martin Luther King. He didn’t claim he was channeling Malcolm X either.