Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 8, 2010

KICK-ASS CONTEXT.... I've seen some mild criticism of President Obama this morning, from those wondering if the "whose ass to kick" line on the "Today" show was excessive bravado. Adam Serwer noted, for example, that Americans are "not going to be happier because the president has pulled out his Bruce Willis impression."

That's hardly an unreasonable take. The president doesn't usually speak this way, and as Atrios explained, a "return to Bush-era fake bluster" would be annoying.

But it's probably worth noting the context of the exchange, because the president's choice of words was a direct reflection of the question. Here's the Q&A:

LAUER: Critics are now talking about your style, which is the first time I've heard that in a long time. They're saying here is a guy who likes to be known as cool and calm and collected, and this isn't the time for cool, calm and collected. This is not the time to meet with experts and advisers; this is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and -- I never thought I'd say this to a president -- but kick some butt. And I don't mean it to be funny.

OBAMA: No, and I understand. And here's what -- I'm going to push back hard on this. Because I think that this is a -- just an idea that got in folks heads, and the media's run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. 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.

The "whose ass to kick" line wasn't just some scripted attempt to sound tough. Lauer pushed the notion that the president shouldn't meet with experts; he should "kick some butt." Obama responded that he meets with people who know what they're talking about so he'd know "whose ass to kick."

In this context, the president really was just responding to the basis of the question, not trying to sound like an action hero with overwrought bravado.

Steve Benen 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Oh Steve, "context" is so 1990s...who cares why Obama said "kick ass" -- he's too damn ruffian to be Priznet... he better git back to the dijon and arugula like really quick...

Posted by: neill on June 8, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

This is truly the stupidest meme the beltway media have come up with yet. What do they want? a president who actually tries to solve the problem or one that throws public temper tantrums? How exactly is that supposed to help?

And notice, when Obama does use some strong language (even if prompted) then they immediately fall into a tizzy about that.

I wish they'd all grow the fuck up. We elected this guy because he was thoughtful and intelligent and competent. Not because of his ability to throw of a world class hissy fit.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on June 8, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

He's a Democrat and he's black. Everything he says is subject to interpretation, especially if it makes him out to come across as dumb, arrogant, ignorant, thuggish, out-of-touch, lazy and/or shiftless. Context be damned, there's a narrative to be pushed. If he's too popular in 2012, there won't be a horse race. Remember Election 2004? Reagan won 49 states! How boring was THAT? If you consider your job to intrigue and entertain rather than inform, you want to make Obama look like an a-hole whenever possible, so the race is that much tighter. And if it so happens that we wind up with a nitwit like Palin as or next President, all the better, think of all the entertainment SHE'LL generate!

I'm the mainstream media, and I approve this message...though I will disavow it in the interest of appearing fair and balanced...

Posted by: slappy magoo on June 8, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

'I wish they'd all grow the fuck up. We elected this guy because he was thoughtful and intelligent and competent. Not because of his ability to throw of a world class hissy fit. '

fourlegsgood?...from your lips to God's ear. You are my hero..

Posted by: SYSPROG on June 8, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

FWIW, his inflection makes it crystal clear he's echoing Lauer's question: "...whose ass to KICK." Otherwise the emphasis would have been: "...whose ASS to kick."

Posted by: Swift Loris on June 8, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Er, Slapster -- Reagan was reelected in 1984, not 2004. That was almost as bad a year as 1980.

Posted by: Michael Carpet on June 8, 2010 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

He was a bit vague, but I believe slapster meant that 2004 (and 2000) were the types of elections the media want to see. Versus the boring landslide in 1984.

Posted by: tanstaafl on June 8, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Just wanted to see if you were paying attention Michael. You may now move on to the next level...

Posted by: slappy magoo on June 8, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

let the angry black man figure out who's ass to kick.
personally, i want to kick tony hayward in tbe balls -- right before he's dragged off to jail.

Posted by: mellowjohn on June 8, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Obama could walk on water, part the Gulf, and change oil into wine, but our modern day bunch of Pharisees will still crucify him. A convenient precedence has been set.

While Katrina and Haiti were natural disasters, the Gulf oil spill is man-made. What we have is a bait and switch to transfer ownership of this tragedy from BP, Halliburton, and Transocean to "the government", and divert the responsibility, the solution, the clean up and/or the funding for said mess from the real criminals in this fiasco to Obama and some federal tax-payer-funded agency. How about just a bit more corporate bail-out.

Thank you Pontius Media for helping big oil and keeping the reality of the situation out of view of the public. When you wash your hands, rinse them in the Gulf for poignancy.

Posted by: Skip on June 8, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

FWIW, Obama sounded a lot more convincing than W's puffed up, false bravado did with that stupid bullhorn.

Posted by: beep52 on June 8, 2010 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

"Critics are now talking about your style, which is the first time I've heard that in a long time."

Where in the world has Matt Lauer been? On Mars, apparently, for the last 18 months.

Posted by: Grumpy on June 8, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

How about this: Democrats and Republicans form a circle. Turn left; KICK, turn right; KICK!

Repeat until the "Deep Water Horizon oil" spill are the words on your lips the next time an oil company offers you a campaign "donation".

Posted by: Doug on June 8, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Matt's also not "comfortable" with the President meeting with experts instead on letting BP blow smoke up his...

Consider the source.

Posted by: howie on June 8, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Who the fuck cares?

Posted by: Sarcastro on June 8, 2010 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

The Media seems to not have a clue on how to report this disaster.

They are getting slick fatigue.

Well, guess what, this is a story that will continue to evolve for, shall we say 2 years?

Beyond Obama's term, since the GOP will use the images of dead pelicans as proof that Obama isn't really an American.

Hey Rush, is this failure enough for ya?

How the hell did we get to a point where we expect our president to "fix" stuff?

Lax regulation of the financial markets led to a meltdown.

No existent regulation led to this human-made oil nightmare.

BP can't claim one iota of success except for the media clampdown.

Headlines like ...BP capturing 20% of the flow ...are stupid.

No one has a clue how much oil has leaked.

Now, that would be a story.....

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on June 8, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

The media has spent a few weeks calling Obama too calm, cold, and collected. Now that he said the word "ass" on national TV, we can now enjoy a few weeks about how the President has too much of a temper and needs to calm down (e.g., "Angry Black Man").

Just wait ...

Posted by: Mark D on June 8, 2010 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

I think maybe Obama was joking, and his jokes are a bit too dry for the simple-minded. But now we need to get ready for an avalanche of hate mail calling for Obama to be impeached or forced to resign because of his lack of the common decency exhibited by Chris Wallace or Joe Klein or Rauch Limbog or Hannity or the rest of them. Now to mention Glenn Beck and his nazi-book-of-the-month club (I told you not to mention this).

Posted by: Christopher Hobe Morrison, Pine Bush, NY, USA on June 8, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

and in the even larger context Obama was on TV to show that he cares, perhaps even that he can be tough with BP and Lauer just helped him.

Posted by: Julene on June 8, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you for this clarification. I only saw the clip of President Obama, never the question. Good to know I can get context somewhere.

Posted by: PhillyCooke on June 8, 2010 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Just as I thought -- there is no "win" for Obama on this kind of thing -- on the one hand, the media meme is, "Show some rage, Obama!", on the other, it's "Did the President cross the line? What will we tell the children?"

Posted by: June on June 8, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Grow up folks. There are $50,000,000 reasons why big time media is trying to move the gulf gusher away from BP and to the government. That $50,000,000 is for a media buy. That is serious jack to ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox News. Every "news" executive, reporter and pundit in New York and Washington wants his or her share.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 8, 2010 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't the "context" that we have a major environmental catastrophe that has been ongoing for almost two months now; the company responsible for same has consistently lied and/or downplayed the size of the disaster (to the harm of the public); and that said disaster was entirely avoidable with appropriate fail safe equipment not required in the US.

Isn't that enough "context" to discuss an ass kicking?

Posted by: Mike Lamb on June 8, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

I'd prefer he did it rather than said it. I don't know what he expects to gain. If he's trying to be Truman, then he should start making the tough decisions.

Posted by: J on June 8, 2010 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Obama abandoned Lauer's eumphemistic "butt," and said ass. The expression used by Americans everywhere is not "kick butt," but "kick ass." Such honesty is unforgiveable. Corporate media will always fault Obama for talking as if his listeners are grown-ups. They want to keep us all infantilized to the greatest extent possible, sucking on that great glass teat.

Posted by: 1st Paradox on June 8, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

In this context, the president really was just responding to the basis of the question, not trying to sound like an action hero with overwrought bravado.

Oh, really? Then what was he doing strutting around in that flight suit with the codpiece and the Mission Accomplished banner? Obviously he thinks of himself as some kind of action hero, even though inaction better describes him.

Hang on. That was the previous guy who did that. Never mind.

Posted by: josef on June 8, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think personal spats get better ratings than policy discussions. So I think part of what was going on was Matt Lauer trying to bait Obama and Obama, in effect, telling Lauer to grow up. Obama made a great point earlier that when he asks for specifics about what he should have done differently, he never gets any specific answers. He should have asked Matt that question.

Posted by: amorphous on June 8, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Cheney saying f**k you to a Senator was more really a big deal, but many con-pundits said it was cool etc.

Posted by: neil b on June 8, 2010 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

I am REALLY REALLY SICK of all this business about Obama not being emotional enough. Empty rhetoric and shoe-pounding do not solve anything. I appreciate the fact that he's cool, calm, and collected. I also don't give the least bit of a s--- that he said he knows whose ass to kick, given how commonly that is said, and given the context. Like others in this thread, I want to say "grow up" to the carpers and naggers.

Obama HAS been on the scene, more than once. He HAS assembled a team of experts. Unfortunately, we've never had to deal with a disaster of this type, magnitude-wise, before, so nobody is quite sure what to do, but obviously they are trying.

Yes, it would have been good if he had gone through MMS and kicked the ass (heh) of those who let BP get away screwing with safety standards. Hindsight being 20-20 etc. But he's had a few other things on his plate.

Bottom line, he and his folks are handling this to the extent they can.

BTW, I and my sibs just recently inherited a stock portfolio from my father who passed away on Feb. 27 of this year, may he rest in peace. We inherited 425 shares of BP. I'm the "personal representative" for the estate, as they call it these days, and last week per my instructions, the broker sold that BP stock. YES!!! We're going to invest the $$$ in a utility which has some good green programs.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on June 8, 2010 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

I don't listen to the corporate news media, and have been slightly out of touch for the last few days. Did the news casts and commentary actually quote the President saying "ass", or did they bleep it out and spend the next five minutes on the fainting couch, decrying Obama's "potty mouth"?

NPR is big on the "potty mouth" designation, and I know that George Will is the last surviving Victorian dowager. I'm with those of you wishing the media would just grow up. Apparently, it pays not to?

Posted by: Zandru on June 8, 2010 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if President Obama were really to have a Bruce Willis moment, he'd say to British Petroleum, and any other serial oil spiller, "Yippee-Kai-Yay, Motherf*ck*r."

But we all know he won't use such language, especially since conservatives in general really, really don't like the cuss word "motherf*ck*er," and censor it every chance they get.

(Note: in the movie "Tremors," the cuss word "motherf*ck*er" is used multiple times, especially by Kevin Bacon. I expect television to censor anything conservatives dislike, but even cable movie or video releases have been altered so "motherf*ck*er" becomes "mother-humper" or something else. Supposed Free Speech-defending conservatives sure are funny...funny, that is, in the head...and definitely hypocrits. What a bunch of "motherf*ck*rs." Oooops.)

Posted by: The Oracle on June 8, 2010 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

It seemed to me that Pres. Obama was responding to something from Lauer when I first saw the out takes. This context should not be excluded. The mainstream media are inane.

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