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Sometimes It’s A Time for Emotion

Don Rose 1 June 2010 One Comment

All through Barack Obama’s presidential campaign he realized he must never appear to be visibly angry over any issue, lest he be dismissed as a clichéd “angry black man.” In fact, he displayed little emotion of any kind, appearing unflappable under the tensest circumstance, even the occasional heart-breaking night during the primaries.

It was all “No Drama Obama,” and he was lauded for it—though he certainly showed the ability to inspire emotion in others. As a side note, he did not dwell on poverty issues to any extent because that, too, would be deemed a cliché role for an African American candidate.

Cut to the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico weeks ago.

It was still No Drama Obama, despite the strong words he had for BP and its irresponsible oilionaires. Strong words, but little in the way of visible anger.

Worse yet, there was little visible in the way of empathy or compassion for the thousands of people along the Gulf Coast whose homes, health and livelihoods were and still are in jeopardy.

I tend to believe him when he says that he and his administration have been on the case from moments after BP’s offshore drilling rig exploded. He got around to giving a pretty good speech during the Memorial Day weekend, assuring the public that he was in charge of the operation aimed at capping the busted well and that the best minds in the administration were giving it full attention.

It’s now a cliché to say he should have delivered it within hours of the blast, but except for a few lines about his daughter’s reaction, it, too, was intellectual and technocratic. Again, he displayed neither perceptible anger at the perpetrators of this calamity nor a warming empathy for its victims.

Meanwhile, Democratic political consultant James Carville, a resident of the area, went over the top in his own planned tirade, and cable-babbler Chris Matthews—nominally an Obama supporter—lost his last shred of proportion and repeatedly stopped just short of calling the president unengaged.

I am no admirer of William Jefferson Clinton, but I’d bet the ranch that whatever else happened, no one would ever call him unengaged.

From the get-go you could imagine Slick Willie blinking back tears. You would somehow accidentally, off-mike, hear him roundly cursing out the rotten, profiteering, irresponsible SOBs of BP. You would see him three, four, five times down at the site, shoveling a heap of oil sludge off a sandy beach. You would see him, arms around fishermen and oystermen, feeling their pain, and making it all credible—especially after every failed attempt to stem the tide of black death poisoning the waters and the beaches.

Possibly because Obama is one of the smartest men ever to hold the office of president, he somehow seems to think that he can analyze and explain every issue without resorting to any level of emotionality, let alone dramatics.

It’s hard to imagine that the author of “Dreams From My Father” is without those essential human emotions. It is also hard to imagine that the joyous figure who remains well liked and who still inspires so many is unable to display either heart-felt empathy or fierce anger.

So where are they?

If maintaining his cool and keeping things on an intellectual level is actually a strategy, it is a losing strategy. It is a strategy that ultimately can cost him his presidency—though he has not lost it yet.

When people try to blame him for the dire straits we are in, it is because of that failure of emotion. Even conservative George Will, no supporter, knows the fault lies not with Obama but his style.

I do not want to get into the blame game now: the failures and deceit of BP, the absence of any corporate or federal contingency rescue plan and the corrupt collaboration of government agencies with the corporations they are supposed to regulate.

Suffice to say we are in uncharted waters and neither BP nor the government has a clearcut solution, though one or another technological tactic may work in the coming weeks.

But precisely because there is no immediate answer forthcoming from either side, the public wants and should get reassurance not only that everyone is working on a solution, but somewhere in the corridors of the White House we have a friend—not just a professor.

No, we’re not looking for a daddy—just a friend. You don’t have to debase yourself into Slick Willie, Mr. President. Maybe just pretend you’re talking to a basketball buddy.


Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

image Stone Faced Rock

One Comment »

  • Mike F said:

    While the “tall cool one” has an unshakable vibe, his staff “leaked” how angry he was when he found out that the bailed-out AIG was bonusing its managers. Also, his staff “leaked” how angry he was over the oil spill – this after his “I am in charge” press conference.

    I don’t care if he’s angry or not, but he is so calculated not to show his anger yet he instructs his staff to report that he’s angry. It’s just another pose.

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