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Tilting at Windmills

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May 27, 2010

DEFINE 'SUFFICIENTLY ENRAGED'.... The New York Times's Jeff Zeleny live-blogged President Obama's press conference this afternoon, and wrapped things up asking whether the president demonstrated to the country that he's "in control of the crisis on the Gulf."

During a full hour of questioning, he illustrated that he has a grasp of the technical challenges at work in the oil spill. He said the government was calling the shots, the buck stopped with him and the ultimate responsibility rested in the Oval Office.

But it remains an open question whether the measured tone that has become the soundtrack of Mr. Obama's presidency -- a detached, calm, observational pitch -- served to drive the point home that he is sufficiently enraged by the fury in the Gulf Coast.

At least he resisted the urge to compare Obama to Spock.

Look, I appreciate the importance of appearances in politics, and I'm well aware of the general media criticism that the president is calm, professorial, and seemingly unflappable -- far too much for reporters' liking.

But basing an analysis of a presidential press conference on whether Obama seemed "sufficiently enraged" seems like an awkward standard. How does one even measure such things? If he's not pounding the podium with his fist, is he somehow less engaged?

And if he is pounding the podium, is that relevant to the response to the crisis?

Kevin Drum watched the CNN coverage, and saw the various on-air personalities "solemnly advising us one after one that Obama really needed to be more emotional because that's what the American people want."

I'm not going to pretend I know what "the American people" want -- and I wish CNN wouldn't either -- but if I had to guess, I imagine the public is more interested in stopping the oil gusher in the Gulf and mitigating the effects of the disaster, and less interested in whether the president meets some ambiguous, undefined standard of being emotional.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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But I'd rather have a beer with Rand Paul!!!!


Journalists. Stupider than the average American - and that's a low bar to set.

Posted by: sherifffruitfly on May 27, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

How about pretending to strum on a "Presidential" guitar. Enraged enough?

Posted by: Tom Parmenter on May 27, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

The question is not whether the President is "sufficiently enraged" or furious enough; are WE, The People "sufficiently enraged" enough to take action and "force" not just the President to act, but the "news" media to tell the truth, the whole truth, and hold all politicians and corporate spokespersons to a higher level of transparency and honesty. The President's job is not to be a dictator, though W once said he wished he were, but to facilitate the highest activity of the government, as it relates to the welfare of the whole.

When a questioner(Major ?) is more concerned about the appearance of impropriety in a WH job offer than the evasion of responsibility of an Oil corporation for a massive environmental disaster, the President is not obligated to override him, just explain to him the facts.

Posted by: st john on May 27, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

He really needs to go there, climb on top of some wreckage with a bullhorn, and talk really loudly. About something. It worked so well the last time a President did it.

Posted by: John Dillinger on May 27, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Anybody hear Glenn Beckerhead or Rand Paul say last week that Obama was out of control because
he was not letting BP do their jobs, and instead he was putting his boot in the throat of BP, telling them what to do?

New axiom for living: You can please a Repig, so don't try.

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on May 27, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Do they think a press conference is a category at the Oscars? No drama Obama is fine with me.

Posted by: flyonthewall on May 27, 2010 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

I think it was clear Obama was ticked off.

Always beware when people try to definitively interpret the emotional state of someone they are observing, to describe the vibe in a room. Zeleny is basically playing journalist, he has to point out some way in which Obama might have failed.

It was a pretty impressive press conference, as usual.

Posted by: Frank C. on May 27, 2010 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

In response to St John .
Are We? Outraged ..As DAY stated a few posts down

Same song, different verse:

Jimmy Carter called for us to break the oil dependency.

Exxon Valdiz, ditto.

$4 gasoline, ditto.

BP in the Gulf, ditto.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
And the beat goes on. La di da. . .
Posted by: DAY on May 27, 2010 at 1:48 PM |

Nothing will ever change until the economy is brought to its knees by the cost of oil in the near future . Then again maybe not - there will be a collective shrug of the shoulders . Oh well - the cost of doing business.

Posted by: John R on May 27, 2010 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Pat Roberts says Obama needs to be less emotional, Jeff Zeleny says he needs more emotion.

I wish these guys would make up their minds.

Posted by: Mary Contrary on May 27, 2010 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

yes, we need to see him flying over the spill
looking thoughtfully out the window of air force one.

Posted by: jpd on May 27, 2010 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

I believe every president from FDR to at least Nixon would have pounded the podium... & 5 or 6 of the others since NIxon probably would have as well.

Posted by: cwolf on May 27, 2010 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Sigh. I'm just going to cut and paste from a previous comment I made based on my anticipation of the meme.

I love how people like James Carville, Schmuck Todd, Chris Matthews and Jake Tapper sit cloaked in their white male privilege and blast the president for not showing more emotion and anger.

Let me spell it out for you. The day Obama, a black man of Kenyan ancestry, shows his teeth to "Real Americans" is the day his political life is over.

He can never show his anger like McCain or Boehner, or curse people like Cheney or Bush or Biden.

He must suffer insults from the likes of Palin, Limbaugh, Gingritch, Beck.

He must answer patronizing, condescending questions Steponallofus, Todd, and Tapper.

He must tolerate disrespect from racist false-arresting cops, unlicensed homophobic plumbers and wingnut teabaggers.

Because as soon as he hints that he is annoyed by their banality and stupidity, he has he must invite them to the Whitehouse for a beer and debase and humilate himself to maintain his bonafides with "Real Americans."

Obama is heroically steering the country through incredibly difficult times caused by the ineptitude and criminality of the previous administration and he is cool, calm and collected.

Posted by: Winkandanod on May 27, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, I can remember when the media was very concerned about the horrible, very bad, not so good temper President Clinton had.

Posted by: howie on May 27, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Should have had him suck back a fifth of bourbon before the presser. Then we could have had some outrage.

Posted by: John R on May 27, 2010 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Craig effing Crawford declared at 2am that this is "Obama's Katrina" because "A press conference and a visit to the region are simply too little too late."

Right. Because what made Katrina "Bush's Katrina" were that he didn't do enough press conferences where he declared he was in charge.


Posted by: Redshift on May 27, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Pounding the podium has always annoyed me, because it distorts the sound going through the microphone - every time some public official does it I think 'don't these people know better than to do that?'

Posted by: kathy k. on May 27, 2010 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of the smarmy Paul Gigot on News Hour after Clinton apologized for his sexual indiscretions. Gigot said, "I don't think he was sorry enough."

Gag me. The fact that a large angry boot doesn't descend from the clouds and kick the holy crap out of these smug, self-righteous, incompetent assholes is proof positive that there is no god.

Posted by: cmac on May 27, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with everything you've said.

Yet I still wish he seemed more pissed. That's Emotional Cazart, not Rational Cazart, but still. This is a catastrofuck of epic proportions.

Posted by: Cazart on May 27, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

When they do this, the news media is just opening the kimono and revealing their own corrupted values: "Screw the substance. Was it a good performance? How did it LOOK, and how did it make people FEEL?"

Plus ... "Will it get us a bump in the ratings if we report it?"

They literally do not distinguish (or care) about the difference between stagecraft and substance, or substance and stupid, uninformed reaction. It is all just good visuals to them.

Posted by: Bokonon on May 27, 2010 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

@Winkandanod - you nailed it.

Posted by: FC on May 27, 2010 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an an American person, and I don't want to see any more emotion from our presidents. The president needs to demonstrate that he is using his immense power wisely. Emotional displays do not convey that impression.

While we're at it, I could do without any president ever again getting to that part of a speech where there's a catch in the throat, a tear in the eye ...

Posted by: Boolaboola on May 27, 2010 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Every time the man speaks I love him more. We are so lucky he is president.

Posted by: Sapient on May 27, 2010 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

You mean "pounding the *lectern", not the podium. The podium is what the speaker stands *on*. The lectern is what the speaker stands behind.

If Obama pounded the podium, he'd have to get down on his hands and knees. Hardly a dignified position.

Posted by: A Pedant on May 27, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

I think what we want is a president realizes that there are big political and financial guns trained on him -- and on us -- at all times. We want him to show he knows how to deflect bullets and cannon balls with just one hand.

I mean that seriously. The way the media play it (and the way the right plays it), it's all about who stands and who falls.

So who's wearing the cape and the big "S" on the chest today? Obama? Do we need him to look like a hero? Or is it okay that he plays it low-key and cool every time? Doesn't that worry us?

I thought he looked like a man who has been gob-smacked by the hard truth that the presidency is no match for real power in this country. Nor does power reside with any other elected officials. Nastiness and destructiveness, yes, but not real power.

And while we're thinking about the future and a diminishing role for oil as an energy source, let's ask ourselves whether the Pentagon could survive without oil and whether it would let us get away with turning off the spigot. Those guys have real power a president can only dream about.

Posted by: PW on May 27, 2010 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

I too am very angry, saddened by the mess in the Gulf. But as I watched the President in today's press conference, I put my questions regarding his response away. He's terribly moved and deeply concerned by what's happened. Give his daughters & all future generations a planet in such a mess? Also, I got the clear sense that he also knows how much this adds to the pile already on his plate and his administration, a pile already in the making from the previous 8 years of Cheney/Bush, et al. He admitted his failure: thinking BP, et al, knew what they were doing & could respond effectively quickly to an accident. He knows now very clearly the oil industry hasn't got the commitment to attend to all the what ifs their industry creates. Just got word that the President has suspended drilling in the Artic. A bit of comfort there. Wondering how much less driving, etc, everyone's done since this crisis began. Will we hear the wakeup call?

Posted by: E. D. on May 27, 2010 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Never forget that the people on Cable News, all of them, are in the business of selling soap. They want a lot of flash and flame. They don't care if the President is handling the situation correctly from America's point of view. They want him to take names and kick ass because a fight always sells more soap than a reasoned conversation.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 27, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Bokonon. When a member of the media circus says "We need more emotion," what they are really saying is "We want a 10-second high-drama clip we can play it over and over," so they can "analyze" or parse it to one political end or another. They're such a tired and tiresome bunch of whores.

Posted by: Gaia on May 27, 2010 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

To Winkandanod,

You have hit it exactly right. If he acted out like the clowns you mentioned, Tapper and the crew would have a field day with it. Also totally agree with E.D.

Posted by: andavis on May 27, 2010 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

I agree completely; and WinkandNods's comment above is absolutely correct: the Republicans played off the fears of 'angry black men' so long and made such political hay out of it for thirty years, that Obama must maintain his excellent demeanor, his correct decorum, etc. He shows his anger plenty when he fires someone (e.g. Blair, now Birnbaum) for screwing up. That should be quite enough for 'the American people.'

Posted by: jjm on May 27, 2010 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

I saw Kevin's article today and was outraged. HOW DARE the media to presume 1)what America wants and 2)how anyone, least of all the President react? ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? It's not the AMERICAN PUBLIC that seems to forget history as the media so often tells us but the MEDIA forgets. They WANTED calm until they decided they could play off against it. MORONS...and sixth grade morons at that.

Posted by: SYSPROG on May 27, 2010 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, it's like 1988 again. During a debate between Dukakis and Old Bush, Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis, "If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor a death penalty for the rapist/murderer?" Dukakis said, "No, I wouldn't, Bernie" and went on to give his reasons. I happened to agree with him, but even if I hadn't, I thought his answer was entirely appropriate. As some of you no doubt will remember, the reaction from the Republicans (and some of their enablers, too, I'm sure) was apparently horror that Gov. Dukakis hadn't frothed at the mouth and gone bananas on live TV over a policy question that involved the hypothetical prospect of his wife's being raped and murdered.

These are the "criteria" (and I use the word loosely) by which voters select the person to occupy the Oval Office? Unbelievable.

Posted by: navamske on May 27, 2010 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Also, I read on HuffPo that during his press conference Obama said one of his daughters asked him about the oil spill. How long before Republican nutjobs (apologies for the redundancy) equate this with Jimmy Carter's statement during a 1980 debate with Ronald Reagan that he'd discussed the issue of nuclear arms with thirteen-year-old Amy?

Or have they done it already? I just got home from work.

Posted by: navamske on May 27, 2010 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

This is just another media trap, the opposite of IOKIYAR. If he's calm, he's out of touch. If he shows emotion, he's just a politician, willing to assume any persona to get votes.

Posted by: Raenelle on May 27, 2010 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Our media sucks.

Posted by: OC on May 27, 2010 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Obama as Spock. That fairly brilliantly captures the essence of the politician, if not the man.

It's what's always bothered me about him.

Lincoln was as unflappable as they come, yet would often couch his abiding point of view with a humorous anecdote. It was very human, and provided an insight into what made the man tick.

Obama strikes me as guy with a good sense of humor, and a pronounced sarcastic streak. But he also strikes me as a guy who pulls his punches where making a point with either is concerned. Lord knows he doesn't display any temper that I can discern. When the Village press corps was abuzz last week with how angry he was with BP, I look forward to seeing it on video. What I saw, however, was simply a man speaking in measured tones. Even the content of his remarks I considered tame, given the extent of the unfolding catastrophe.

The president's seeming lack of emotional engagement is what that pissant James Carville is addressing with his calculated attacks on the administration. What Carville knows about capping an undersea well is surely on par with most people (which is to say, no understanding whatsoever). What he understands about political perception is another matter. His accusatory hysterics aside, Obama would well advised to listen to his PR advise. He should have commandeered the prime time airwaves weeks ago, and spoken directly to the nation about this catastrophe. He still should.

Posted by: JW on May 27, 2010 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

@navamske: suppose someone asked Cindy Sheehan what penalty should be applied to a U.S. President who lied us into "war," resulting in her son's "murder," and she said he should be tortured and killed slowly? Would that be acceptable to the Party who is responsible for the lies that got her son killed? Or, if Cindy had acted on her rage and assassinated the President for his lies, would she be exonerated by the Right Wing? One Wonders what would happen if shoes were put on other feet.

Posted by: st john on May 27, 2010 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Ask Howard Dean about what happens when you display passion.

It's silly because we all know Obama can't win: if he pounds the podium or raises his voice, then "the stress is getting to him!" If he stays calm, "he's detached!" The lines are drawn no matter what he does.

Posted by: Algernon on May 27, 2010 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

Real reporting is hard. Reducing a highly complex event to a binary "was he or wasn't he?" narrative is easy, and means you can go home early.

Posted by: Master Mahan on May 27, 2010 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

I can't remember one time Reagan showed any anger.

Posted by: Patrick on May 27, 2010 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

Zleazy Zeleny has a habit of pushing nonsense narratives that he pulls out of his nether regions.

Zeleny is a wannabe-commentator who has frequently pushed right-wing narratives as 'conventional wisdom'.

Zeleny is NOT an objective journalist.

But frankly I'd be grateful for both more HEAT and light from Obama. He's far too tied to Corporate interests to bring either to the table.

This is another lost opportunity to illustrate the failures of right-wing neoliberal laissez-faire economics.

Instead, Obama, again repeatedly defended Corporate power like some sycophantic .....

I get it, he doesn't want to offend the dirty-energy Corporations that his appeasement instincts need to serve.

Obama's dirty energy expansions have included oil, coal, and nuclear energy.

Again, Obama is NOT an environmentalist nor is he a progressive. That he's 'better' than the insane Republicans is an increasingly thin reed to hold on to.

Posted by: Annoyed on May 27, 2010 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

@stjohn: Although I suspect they were largely (or wholly) rhetorical, I'm afraid I understand neither your questions nor what they have to do with my post. Perhaps I've misunderstood and what you're saying has nothing to do with what I said. But you did address your comments to me specifically. Have a nice evening.

Posted by: navamske on May 27, 2010 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing says "I'm in charge" more clearly, than pounding your shoe on the table and snarling at all comers. Obama should have known that.

Posted by: exlibra on May 27, 2010 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Obama from his bully pulpit rarely makes a strong case for progressive/liberal policies or ideology. And when he (rarely) does so verbally, he quickly backs off. He is very articulate, but rarely connects emotionally with his base. No drama Obama all the time doesn't work well, especially when your opponent is making dramatic emotionally-based arguments. As one example, a much more forceful verbal response to Deepwater Horizon disaster would have headed off much of the current political meme of "Does he get it?". Churchill after Dunkirk giving a "Aye say therah, we're in a real pickle and we'll do our best with a stiff upper lip" wouldn't have nearly the same galvanizing impact as "We'll meet them on the beaches". In both cases, the reality is Churchill and Obama can/could do just so much-- given the circumstances. but the political effect is very different. It's NOT pounding the lectern (or podium)... FDR, Churchill, Mandela, ML King didn't in connecting with their audience.

Posted by: gdb on May 27, 2010 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

No, the critics have a point, and Obama and his Party will do poorly if he looks aloof. That's human nature, like it or not.

Posted by: neil b on May 27, 2010 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Yet I still wish he seemed more pissed.

I'm starting to think this is a regional difference, because as a native Midwesterner, I watched Obama and thought, "Wow, he is really pissed off!" A few fellow Midwesterners chimed and said the same thing. So it looks like unfortunately what we clearly read as Obama being absolutely livid and having his anger barely under control looks like detachment to the rest of the country.

I'm really not sure what to do about that.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on May 27, 2010 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

"I can't remember one time Reagan showed any anger".

How about: "We paid for this microphone!". Remember how his eyes flashed, as his steely voice cut the ether? Granted, it was a stage managed production. Garson Kane and Ruth Gordon should have sued. Katherine Hepburn was still alive, and could have testified on their behalf.

Posted by: JW on May 28, 2010 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Well he held the press conference because 53% disapproved of his handling of the spill so something is going on.

Posted by: mnpundit on May 28, 2010 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

I thought this was the President who was too "testy" in a private meeting with Republicans and he just needs to "not take things so seriously"?

Posted by: kp on May 28, 2010 at 6:24 AM | PERMALINK

"Ask Howard Dean about what happens when you display passion".

Howard Dean never sat in the Oval office as the Caribbean strangled.

Did he?

Posted by: JW on May 28, 2010 at 7:25 AM | PERMALINK

Re: "Zeleny is basically playing journalist".

They are all playing journalist. Which is exactly the problem.

President is conducting himself exactly as an intelligent, elegant, knowledgable President should. Why should he spit fire, call names and curse to get his point across?

And anyone saying that this is what he should do is an idiot.

The very minute he raises his voices and stomps his feet, those whinning because he is not pulling a Glen Beck will be the first ones to say "see, we know you he was just an angry black man".

As as to Carville, I don't remember him railing at the loss of life (1,600 +) from Katrina. Could his outrage because he thinks his property values will go down?

Posted by: Sammy on May 29, 2010 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK



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