Two wars. An environmental crisis. Global fiscal instability. Growing debt and deficits. Continued joblessness. And the nation’s talking class is fixated on presidential emoting.
Questions about whether President Obama is showing the appropriate level of anger over the oil spill in the Gulf kicked into a new gear this week, after his comments Monday morning on “The Today Show” introduced race into the debate.
Obama’s remark that he was looking for “ass to kick” over the spill provoked a headline on the Drudge Report that said the president was “going street.” That stirred two days of speculation – most of it on cable news – about whether a black president or a black man in general can show anger without provoking fear in white Americans.
Obama’s comment appeared to be, in part, an attempt to show that he was upset about the spill, in response to critics who have questioned whether he is showing the public that he cares enough about the ongoing disaster.
“The same people now criticizing him (e.g. Fox Morning team) criticized him for not showing anger a few days before. Go figure,” said Lanny Davis, a former White House special counsel to President Bill Clinton.
“It’s a completely bogus issue. Not 99 percent, 100 percent bogus,” Davis said in an interview.
“I’ve not heard any regrets about the language,” Gibbs said.
One prominent Democrat, however, said that the entire situation – the use of such strong language to compensate for Obama’s more cerebral and stoic personality — exposed a void in Obama’s leadership style.
“Politics is about something much deeper than problem-solving. The essence of morality is empathy. If you feel someone’s pain the chances are you’re a good person. The Golden Rule is basically: Feel someone else’s pain,” the veteran Democrat told The Daily Caller.
“And when you cast yourself as the problem-solver in chief — devoid of empathy, denigrating empathy — you had damn well better solve the problem. Anyone out there think we’ve solved the BP spill? Or unemployment? Or the deficit? No. Problem-solving takes time, and the only way voters will give you the time you need is by showing them you’re on their side,” said the Democrat consultant, who asked not to be identified in order to speak more frankly.
Public attitudes about Obama’s leadership have been slipping for some time. A little-noticed set of numbers in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday showed that on two questions — whether Obama “understands the problems of people like you,” and whether he is “a strong leader” — the president lost ground in the last three months, which continues a downward trend since his election.
Watch Juan Williams explain President Obama’s “dilemma,” in an appearance Wednesday on Fox News.
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Only 57 percent of those polled think Obama is a strong leader now compared to 77 percent in April 2009, while 51 percent said they think Obama understands their problems, down from 72 percent in January 2009. The number of people who don’t think he understands has doubled, up to 48 percent from 24 percent.
“Who would have thought that a man who rode to the presidency on hope and inspiration would so quickly disavow all that and turn into a mechanistic, bloodless technocrat? We need more Clinton and less Dukakis in the White House,” said the Democrat campaign consultant.
Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary to Clinton, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday that she would “would like to see Obama show a bit more emotion but it doesn’t have to be anger.”
Juan Williams, a black journalist and contributor to Fox News, said on the network that Obama “has to manage himself in such a way to convey passion, concern and empathy, but he’s got to not do so in such a way to play into any kind of racial stereotyping of the kinds that say black men especially are hyper-sexual, hyper-violent, quick to anger, lacking in rationale … lazy, slothful, all the negatives that attach to being black in the history.”
“Obviously most American voters are white and they want to be able to relate to their president, and if it’s going to be that he fits some stereotype that would be self-defeating politically for him,” Williams said.
Davis, meanwhile, who is more aligned with Bill and Hillary Clinton than with Obama, dismissed the criticisms of Obama for using the word “ass” and for allowing Gibbs to say he was “enraged” over the spill.
“He is more cerebral and Bill Clinton was more visceral. So what? [Obama] won by a substantial margin and got health care passed,” Davis said. “So is anyone telling me there is something wrong with his style. Hello? He just got health care passed.”
Republicans began to make light of Obama’s “kick ass” comments this week and to use them as an opportunity to criticize the president’s fiscal policies.
“I think it’s time for Democrats here on Capitol Hill to start listening to the American people. They want spending cut and they want it cut now. And I’m wondering, why isn’t the president looking for someone’s ‘ass to kick’ on this subject?” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, asked by The Daily Caller if he was looking for “ass to kick” regarding the spill, was speechless for several full seconds at a press conference with a few dozen reporters Tuesday.
After two long pauses, the Kentucky Republican said only: “It’s hard for me to improve on that.”