Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Obama Says “Ass,” Media Clutches Pearls Over “Gangsta” Show of Emotion

Some days, I don’t know whether to laugh or… well, whether to find out whose ass to kick. The problem with the latter course of action is that there is simply no shortage of candidates, and I have but two feet and limited time.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the media completely flip out over the perception that President Obama is simply not “showing enough emotion” over the BP oil leak in the Gulf. The dominant theme seemed to be that a lack of visible anger indicated that the president was insufficiently bothered by the problem, and therefore insufficiently engaged in trying to solve it. Because we all know that there is a direct correlation between displays of anger and effective problem-solving. For example, when the laundry room washer ate seven of my quarters last weekend, my livid outburst of obscenity made the coins magically reappear. (Okay, it didn’t, but it totally should have, and therefore is an appropriate example of the effectiveness of displays of anger.)

Here’s a sampling of some of the headlines from the past week:
Does Obama Have a Problem with Lack of Emotion? — CBS News
President Obama: Emoter in Chief? (Subtitled: Since The BP Oil Spill Began, President Obama Has Been Trying to Convey Presidential Action and Concern; But Is He Showing Enough Emotion?) — ABC News

Americans expect some emotion from Obama
 (Subtitled: In moments of crisis such as the continuing oil spill, people demand that their presidents channel the national mood) — Gulf News
McAuliffe says Obama needs to ‘amp it up’ — CNN
That last one really cracks me up. I vividly remember McAuliffe’s version of “amped up” from the Clinton campaign in 2008. I suspect they had to turn his mike way down just to keep from rupturing television speakers across America. This is not a man whose advice on how to conduct oneself in the media I would want any president to take.

Our own writer Nancy even posted a story called Dowd Wants a Feeler In Chief; I Want a President, in which she responded with sanity to a batshit Maureen Dowd column in which she insisted that being an emotional “prism in moments of fear and pride” is “a signal part of [the president's] job.”

So fast-forward to yesterday (well, technically, I guess that’s rewinding, but whatever), Obama did an interview on NBC’s Today show in which he said the following:
Responding to critics who say his response to the spill should be more engaged and forceful, Mr Obama said: “I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf.” “And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar; we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick,” he added.
And 28,000 internet headlines were launched with the speaking of a single curse word. Not only is it the biggest story in, like, DAYS, but it has spawned a ton of second-guessing and criticism, as well. I know, shocking, eh?
CNBC Host Says Obama Sullied Office With ‘Ass to Kick’ Line — U.S. News & World Report
Gangsta Obama, ‘So I know whose ass to kick’ (First line of post: “You know times are hard politically when a president wants to look tough and just looks unprofessional and pathetic instead.”) — GOPUSA
Drudge: “Obama goes street: Seeking ‘ass to kick’ “ — Drudge Report (via Media Matters)
Okay, do you see the problem here? Because these headlines pretty much illustrate exactly why Obama is careful to maintain strict control of his emotions in public. Part of it – a major part, I suspect – is that he is a rational guy who responds to situations in a calm and rational manner as a habit. But another part of it is, as a black man forging a path no other person of color has walked, he has to. He has to, or risk having the most modest of deviations mouth-foamingly characterized as “sullying his office,” “unprofessional,” “gangsta” or “street.”

Think about this, rationally, without emotion: The guy simply said, in a very calm manner, that he spends lots of time consulting with experts so he will “know whose ass to kick.” He didn’t shout it, he didn’t sputter, he wasn’t gesticulating and there were no veins bulging in his forehead. And yet, with that one little word, there are people pouncing upon him as “going gangsta” and acting “unprofessional.”

Chattahbox said it perfectly:
For weeks, media pundits, conservatives and some Democrats, most notably CNN political contributor James Carville, have blasted Obama’s response to the Gulf oil disaster, as too cerebral. He is not angry enough. He is not fully engaged emotionally. Now, of course, since the President used the “A” word, he is being criticized for being too angry at the 24-hour cable media, which has happily advanced the meme that the oil spill is Obama’s “Katrina” and he is not an effective leader, because he doesn’t dress up in a flight suit and show emotion. Well, now this writer’s head is just about ready to explode over the nonsensical level of political discourse in our country.
That article went on to quote one by Steve Benen:
Of course, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the political media of late, it’s that remarks and displays like these won’t satiate complaining pundits. If I had to predict the response, I’d say we’ll see one media contingent complain that this wasn’t enough emotion, since the president didn’t literally start screaming and pummeling BP officials. A second will suggest Obama “lost his cool” by expressing passion.
Well nailed, Steve.

The quality of media this country has – both in the mainstream and in much of the blogosphere, the deplorable lack of reasoning ability present in most of the population, and the utterly embarrassing level of what must now laughingly be labeled “discourse”… these are all reasons why I am often tempted to conclude that the U.S. does not deserve leaders who actually think instead of merely reacting in the way that will play best in the media.

I would really, really love to be proven wrong.

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