I’m speaking of the president’s style, which seems to be getting a lot of unwelcome attention lately. And I’m not referring to his personal style, which is generally impeccable. I can’t remember when America has had such a graceful and elegant president. The man never seems to put a foot wrong (an attribute he shares with all babies everywhere, who never look awkward no matter what position they’re filmed in). This is an eminently photogenic president. I’ve only seen him look less than elegant on one occasion, and that was his regrettable first pitch at the Nationals’ opening day last year…(shudder)…a moment best forgotten by baseball fans.
But in recent days there’s been a fair amount of concentration on the president’s governing style…and not just from the right, either. Ruth Marcus caused quite a stir this month when she accused Obama of running a “Where’s Waldo” presidency:
For a man who won office talking about change we can believe in, Barack Obama can be a strangely passive president. There are a startling number of occasions in which the president has been missing in action—unwilling, reluctant or late to weigh in on the issue of the moment. He is, too often, more reactive than inspirational, more cautious than forceful.
This drumbeat of criticism has accelerated with the steady barrage of bad news in recent weeks. Earthquakes, tidal waves, market crashes, union fury, and domestic turmoil over state and federal budgets swirl around him with relentless ferocity while he remains calm (some say “aloof” and “detached”) at the center of the storm.
The latest criticism hones in on something that would seem wholly innocuous under any other circumstances…the President filling out his NCAA brackets. “Inappropriate!” screams the right. “Callous! Indifferent! Tone deaf!” And if that’s not enough, he’s also getting grief for his family’s planned trip to Rio during the Obama girls’ spring break. Even his occasional golf games are coming under scrutiny.
The same right wing that mocked the president mercilessly during the BP spill for saying his daughter wanted him to “plug the hole, Daddy,” now seems to believe he should, from his desk in the Oval Office, be single-handedly managing Japan’s nuclear crisis and earthquake.
So is this just a matter of normal, garden-variety partisan sniping, or is there some validity to it? One of our bloggers has famously described Obama’s style as being “preternaturally calm.” But is it too much so? Maybe Americans would be happier with their president if he would just freak out a bit…wring his hands in despair…maybe even bite his lip and shed a few tears.
Personally I prefer a leadership style that’s more reflective of Rudyard Kipling’s poem:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
But in an intense media age when all politics is largely theater, maybe that kind of calm, measured, steady approach just doesn’t fly any more.
- Ruth Marcus: The ‘Where’s Waldo?’ presidency (commercialappeal.com)
- Barack-etology-gate: What’s Really Behind Criticism of President Obama’s Basketball Jones? (mediaite.com)
- Obama seen as ineffectual leader (westernexperience.wordpress.com)
- Barack Obama’s lack of leadership – John Podhoretz – NYPOST.com (cricketmarie.wordpress.com)
- The brackets presidency? (politico.com)
- Nuclear Crisis in Japan: President Obama Addresses the Disaster (blippitt.com)