Not Enough Drama from Obama?

Why sending a feeble-mnded, “B” movie actor to the White House 30 years ago was a monumentally stupid idea: Reason 19, 442.

It’s bad enough that the requirement of this media age is that all of our presidents be “telegenic.” It is now apparently mandated that they comport themselves like drama queens. Not only do they need to look like the model in an Esquire ad, they now have to behave like Greta Garbo: “I vant to be alone!” Since when is this a prerequisite for effective presidential leadership? This new reality is just one more of the many nasty hangovers from the era of Ronald Reagan.

Many years ago when I was still in high school, I bore witness to an argument between a teenage couple that still makes me laugh thirty-four years later. The guy had experienced a minor mishap of some kind – so minor, in fact, that I cannot recall even a single detail. After explaining to his girlfriend what had happened, this clown became indignant when she didn’t break into tears on hearing about it. Seriously! He actually became incensed because she didn’t cry! The reaction of so many in the media this week at President Obama’s inherently calm demeanor during the Gulf of Mexico crisis brought this cherished memory back to life with a comical vengeance.

So the president of the United States is not “angry” enough. He’s not “weepy” enough. He doesn’t “emote”. Has the mainstream media been hijacked by a cabal of petulant sixteen-year-olds? Do they expect Barack Obama to behave like the half-witted antagonist of a Lesley Gore tune?

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!
Cry if I want to!
Cry if I want to!
You would cry to if it happened to you!
Cha-Cha-Cha!

Please. In this one respect Barack Obama is a lot like JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although many of us are not old enough to remember those thirteen awful days in October of 1962, we’ve certainly seen enough film and videotape footage of it. How did Jack Kennedy behave during that confrontation with Russia? He was as cool as a freakin’ cucumber, Buster! Can you imagine how the Soviets would have reacted had the president taken the suggestion of an adviser that he “freak out”? Many of you reading this would never have been born. I would probably be dead. We would never have known the name “Sarah Palin”. There would today be no such thing as FOX News. Oh, the humanity.

What is it with these black guys? Why the “cool detachment” of so many of them? What’s that all about and where did it start?

It started with the jazz musicians of the thirties and forties. They adopted their apparently indifferent, “cool” demeanor simply as a means of survival. The fact of the matter is that back then (and even now in some cases) the very sight of an African American showing any emotion tends to put a certain type of white person ill-at-ease.

Virginia Mayo and Ronald Reagan in "The Girl From Jones Beach".

Seventy years ago these musicians traveled throughout the country on what was called the “Chitlin Circuit” – black performers traveling to venues where they would entertain predominantly black audiences. Their mode of transportation were buses or caravans of automobiles. Oft times they had to travel though the deep south which, if you’ll recall your American history, was not Valhalla for people with dark skin in the weird old days. Remember, up until the mid-twentieth century, the quaint tradition of lynching was perfectly legal in that region of the country. In order not to draw attention to themselves, these groups of performers had to remain (figuratively and literally) COOL! So was born a very cool tradition. Ya dig?

Wednesday  night on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Newsweek’s Jonathan Capehart – a “person of color” – related the story of how, as a boy, his stepfather once admonished him for showing “too much emotion in your face”, and how he would be much better off getting through life as a black person by not revealing the intensity of his feelings. In his autobiography, Barack Obama wrote of his determination to present himself to the world as the most amiable of men in order to pacify the anxiety of white people. He knew instinctively (as do most African American males) that he would avoid a lot of problems if he were not perceived as “AN ANGRY BLACK MAN”. By the way, his strategy worked. The guy is at this moment waking up – snug as a bug in a rug – in his bed inside the Executive Mansion. Smart fellow, that Obama.

As I have mentioned too many times to count, this president has been a bit of a disappointment. Although this is definitely “change”, not all of it is change I can believe in. But I must give the man credit where credit is due. The calm, unemotional manner in which he carries himself I do not find unsettling. In fact, it gives me more confidence in this president than I have had in any president in my lifetime.

He doesn’t get angry or emotional? I’m cool with that. He tends to be contemplative and thorough? No problem! He keeps a poker face? Deal me in! I don’t find any of these characteristics troubling. In fact, I can’t help but find them reassuring! Folks, let’s remember that for eight years we had a shoot-from-the-hip, half-witted frat boy in charge of our country! We don’t want to go back there, do we? I didn’t think so.

Again, the comparisons to President Kennedy are unavoidable. What was the angriest statement he made during his all-too-short time in the White House? It was during a April 11, 1962 press conference, when he acidly described the “utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans” that Roger Blough and the executives at U.S. Steel were showing by raising the price of that metal by six cents a ton. But even in this instance, although his words bore anger and even rage, his presence exhibited the calm grace for which he was justifiably famous. Can you even imagine Jack Kennedy behaving in any other way? What the heck, let’s give it a try, shall we?

“These contemptible bastards at U.S. Steel stabbed me in the back! That’s it, man! No more Mister Nice Guy! I’m gonna kick some serious shit out of somebody, baby! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE MESSIN’ WITH, ROGER BLOUGH? WHO YOU TALKN’ TO? YOU TALKIN’ TO ME? ARE YOU TALKIN’ TO ME???”

I mean, seriously.

Yesterday, the unintentional comedians at FOX Noise were even more hypocritical that usual. On the one hand they were criticizing the chief executive for being a cold fish, on the other they were calling him to task for talking about “kicking some ass” during an interview the day before with Matt Lauher on the Today program. It’s the same old story with these people. Damned if he does; damned if he doesn’t.

The media’s response to President Obama’s “lack of emotion” is symptomatic of how dumbed-down we’ve become as a culture in the last three decades. I wish these people could realize how stupid they look when they complain – like that dopey teenager all those decades ago – that the president “won’t cry”. As Capehart said last night on MSNBC, Obama “is just not wired that way”. Indeed he’s not. He is what he is. It’s his party and he’ll cry if he wants to. Some people really need to grow up.

Tom Degan
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

SUGGESTED READING: Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye , by Dave Powers and Kenny O’Donnell. A funny and poignant memoir of their friendship with John F. Kennedy. A great book.

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Comments

  1. Alicia says

    I agree with your article, great points about public emotion and race. But for me – frustration with a “lack of emotion” is really frustration that Obama’s political decisions and actions are clearly aligned with corporate interests in the face of the greatest disaster this country has faced. I am frustrated that instead of being horrified at mass extinction and destruction of an entire ecosystem – and the threat to our coastlines and the human communities there- Obama is clearly covering up BP’s mistakes in the name of greed.

    Watching Obama publicly respond to the oil spill I realized – he sounds JUST like Sarah Palin! He’s saying NOTHING. He’s doing NOTHING. He pauses after every two words to appear contemplative, but he is just rambling nonsensically. Actions speak louder than words, or in this case, a lack of emotional words.

    Obama’s actions show he doesn’t care about wildlife, or coastal communities, or unprecidented levels of toxins entering our food chain, or the fact that hurricane season is around the corner and oil splattered inland will create a fire hazard unlike any ever seen in this country. Will he fail to show emotion if the entire LA coastline burns to the ground in September? Will he continue to let BP just handle it?

    Salazar, under Obama, issued record numbers of oil platform permits. Oil politics in the gulf got WORSE under Obama. This is what I’m really mad about.

  2. says

    I agree with your article, great points about public emotion and race. But for me – frustration with a “lack of emotion” is really frustration that Obama’s political decisions and actions are clearly aligned with corporate interests in the face of the greatest disaster this country has faced. I am frustrated that instead of being horrified at mass extinction and destruction of an entire ecosystem – and the threat to our coastlines and the human communities there- Obama is clearly covering up BP’s mistakes in the name of greed.

    Watching Obama publicly respond to the oil spill I realized – he sounds JUST like Sarah Palin! He’s saying NOTHING. He’s doing NOTHING. He pauses after every two words to appear contemplative, but he is just rambling nonsensically. Actions speak louder than words, or in this case, a lack of emotional words.

    Obama’s actions show he doesn’t care about wildlife, or coastal communities, or unprecidented levels of toxins entering our food chain, or the fact that hurricane season is around the corner and oil splattered inland will create a fire hazard unlike any ever seen in this country. Will he fail to show emotion if the entire LA coastline burns to the ground in September? Will he continue to let BP just handle it?

    Salazar, under Obama, issued record numbers of oil platform permits. Oil politics in the gulf got WORSE under Obama. This is what I’m really mad about.

  3. Evelyn Goodman says

    I guess you are not aware that a deal was made regarding the hostages, that, even though Carter had them on the verge of being released, the deal was that it would WAIT until Reagan was elected into office.
    Reagan didn’t promote their release, Carter did.
    Politics can be a dirty game, and people are expendable pawns.
    Reagan was no doubt a nice, amiable man, but pretty much did as he was told by the powers who really run our country behind the scenes.
    Obama, too, is under ‘orders’, but is smart enough to get some things done under the radar!
    We are aiming at the wrong targets! We have to become aware of who is really running the show in our country, and the world. Once exposed, they will prove to have a weak underbelly!

  4. says

    “The media’s response to President Obama’s “lack of emotion” is symptomatic of how dumbed-down we’ve become as a culture in the last three decades. I wish these people could realize how stupid they look when they complain – like that dopey teenager all those decades ago – that the president “won’t cry”. As Capehart said last night on MSNBC, Obama “is just not wired that way”. Indeed he’s not. He is what he is. It’s his party and he’ll cry if he wants to. Some people really need to grow up.” You said it all in the above statement. In Neil Postman’s “Amusing ourselves to Death” he posits that Americans lost the brain race long ago with dumbed down everything. Marketeers finally got it! There was no need to sell or convince,a glitzy and continuous marketing program could do what tons of expensive advertising couldn’t do–deliver consumer so “dumbed down” they don’t even know what’s good fo them. Package it nicely and it is lovely. It is appearance journalism and it is taking the country into the modern Dark Ages. Loved the piece. Keep them coming.

    DBDallas

  5. Elaine says

    You must have been in high school when Ronald Reagan came into a recession when he was elected into office & Jimmy Carter had been at his wits end trying to get back our hostages from Iran. Carter had no respect or fear from the other countries & he could not get our hostages back. Iran knew that when Reagan came in they had better send our people back home & they did. It was rough for a little while but Reagan finally got our economy back up & running again without putting us in more debt as Obama has. Ronald Reagan did more for this country then other Presidents had for a long time.
    I was like most & suspicious of an actor becoming President but it didn’t take me long to respect this man & I agreed with everything he did. It worked & he brought back our Pride in our Country & told us that our Democracy worked best when we had less interference from the Government. Things were good & he broke down a lot of barriers that were holding us back. When he got shot he pretended it was not bad, but it was & he almost died. Obama didn’t need to show any emotion, he just needed to work on trying to contact someone that knew how to handle a situation like this, instead of 6 days of vacation, playing golf, having all of these sports teams in for what, I do not know, spending the taxpayers money on parties with booze, expensive entertainers while he just shut down all oil rigs in the Gulf for no reason. One of the scientist said the paper he signed did not have any suggestions on it that this should be done when he signed it & he does not think it was necessary because it could make them more dangerous to start back up, is my understanding, & these 45,000 people out of work are in really bad shape right along with the fisherman. Instead of trying to find some answers & some help & temporary abolishing the 1920 Jones act so others could come in & help & he is seen on video partying & drinking. The Netherlands called us 3 days after the oil leak started & offered to send there boats with skimmers to help but Obama refused. So now if he does not let those other rigs start back up really soon they will probably move them to Africa or somewhere they can operate. What is that going to do for all the people out of work? We furnished 1/3 of the oil for ourselves which will have to be bought from other countries if he lets this happen.
    So now that we are over 13T in debt, a large majority of Americans are out of work, some of you are wanting us to furnish illegals with education, food stamps, welfare, a lot of our jobs, & free health care, but some of those illegals coming across the border are not just Drug Cartel but Terrorists, also. What is happening to our country that use to be the very best country in the World, with the best health care, the best of everything & no other country could match us? So, I do not want Obama to cry or yell or argue or do anything but his job. I do not think that job includes giving a party at the White House while we have a 13T deficit & a crisis in the Gulf & at his decision put 45,000 more people out of work. So tell me what are you seeing that I don’t?

  6. says

    For Kennedy and Reagan, coolness was at most a commendable tactic, a tool in promoting commitments.

    But what’s at issue in regard Obama is not whether he too should use coolness as a tactic, but rather the consistent evidence that his effective commitments are at bottom lacking: coolness has been a tactic toward mostly NOTHING.

    It’s not that his rhetoric isn’t at times impressively hot. But even that rhetoric itself yo-yos on policy. Last year he was against climate change. Ten weeks ago he not only was for it, but ready to promote it by especially dirty undersea drilling.

    The lack of muscular commitment has emerged on every key issue – whether sufficient economic stimulus and aid to the states, enviro and endangered species protection (latest anti-protection moves include but are not limited to wolves, whales, sea turtles) , really going for clean energy in time to do something about climate change, really preventing nuke proliferation by stopping Iran and N Korea, promoting liberty rather than repression in Iran and elsewhere abroad, ending the anti-gay DADT policy in the military, etc etc. In every case Obama dithers, wimps out, or kow-tows to the adversaries of the interests and values we broadly share – as progressives and indeed as Americans.

  7. in_awe says

    Odd, I don’t remember Reagan emoting all over the place…even when shot he kept his cool and joked with the surgeon – asking if he was a Republican. He didn’t yell at Gorbachev or threaten to “kick his ass” (if some advisors could only clue him in on what was important or bogus or whatever Obama seems to need guidance on handling). No, I remember even Democrats of the time respecting the Presidential image he cast – quite unlike the current occupant of the White House.

    Coolness by Obama is an affectation and a refuge for his inability to act decisively…and to stay off the golf course…in the face of a monumental disaster unfolding on his watch.

    • Fran Richardson says

      HELLO???
      You have it a mite backwards!! Reagan’s “Cool” was his UN-intelligence!
      The man himself cannot live up to what idiots have credited him!!

      Typical Republican and non-readers!! Better say something negative for being positive requires some degree of intelligence!!

      Guess that is why Newspapers have now adjusted down to a 3rd grade reading level….and we thought being written on a 4th grade level was bad enough!!

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