I had blogged on this topic several days ago.
I notice that the same topic has been taken up by an editorialist on the New York Times editorial page, “What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama”. The gist of the opinion piece is that it is somehow dangerous for black men to show any kind of anger or nonconformity. This looks to be the well regarded African American author Ishmael Reed, and so he writes as if people should take this as a kind of final word on the subject.
I still disagree.
It’s a big mistake for the President not to show some emotion. All of the U.S. presidents of recent memory are known for their outbursts at one time or another.
For example, look at Ronald Reagan. A lot of his shtick of the late 1970’s and 1980 was about getting angry and showing it. I remember that one of the things that put him out front in the 1980 Republican primaries was a fight that he had with the moderator at some New Hampshire primary event. There was some dispute as to whether former Governor Reagan had the right to speak at a certain moment, and the moderator, Mr. Breen, directed the person at the switch to shut off Reagan’s microphone. Governor Reagan said loudly, “I’M PAYING FOR THIS MICROPHONE, MR. GREEN!” It was symbolic of how people felt they were paying heavy taxes to government bureaucrats who were non-responsive, and it was sort of an everyman’s response to an indignity. It really helped Reagan in the polls in that state’s primary, which is given a lot of weight despite its small size.
Reagan got the guy’s name wrong, but people even overlooked that.
Bill Clinton was known to have quite a temper. Although it was rare for him to show it as President, he did let the emotion flow on occasion. I remember in the 1992 primaries, he blew up when some reporter incorrectly told him that Jesse Jackson had double-crossed Clinton on some issue, maybe and endorsement. So everyone knew Clinton had a temper.
And of course, the recent 25-watt occupant of the White House, George W. Bush, was quite an emotional guy on the podium.
It’s really unfair, and inappropriate, for people to debate whether Obama should let go from time to time for public consumption. When you consider the deep economic situation that America is up against currently, as bad as it has been since the early ’80’s or 1974, many people are feeling the anxiety. We would appreciate if the President also showed that he really felt the situation. Not just academically talk about it. Show that he feels what a f***ing bind the whole sh** is.
I think Dr. Reed just belongs to a different generation of blacks. In that generation, any show of anger had to be controlled, because of all the twisted ways the white power structure would twist whatever was done. “One standard for us, another standard for YOU” and things like that.
I would like to think that the 21st century is different. If people are willing to give their votes to trust someone competent like Barack Obama to do the job, we also are enlightened enough not to play the games of old, and do a double standard on the first African-American president. I honestly think that people would appreciate that the president not only acknowledge our frustration, but show his own. Who wouldn’t? Why wouldn’t it make sense, that a leader of our country, the leader, wouldn’t show in feeling that he is right there with us? Not talk. Not intellectualize. Feel.
So this is the thing. Black writers say “oh, that’s too dangerous.” But in fact, it’s just what’s called for. A lot of frustration, and a lot of anger. Letting people know it. I mean, that’s the thing. That’s the thing. You can speechify everything, and be high brow, etc. But what’s called for is the show of barely contained emotion.
Is it really fair if someone whose not white has to tip toe around situations, when it clearly calls for this kind of response? That’s not really in keeping with the notion that we are all equal under the law, is it? That we are all God’s children, ne?
I dunno. Maybe I am totally missing it, and that President Obama has to appear as stiff as one of those cardboard cutouts of him that the people charge you $5 to take a picture with. A technocrat like Jimmy Carter, who the People came to feel that they just couldn’t relate to. A guy like 1988’s Mike Dukakis, who, when asked how he would respond if his wife was raped, gave some eggheaded, soulless answer, instead of something with some passion. (Remember that debate? That’s when he lost the election. Not election day.)
When you’re President, (and I never will be of course but I’m just saying), all these people are out there giving you advice. They all know how to do it, and better than you do as the actual elected official. Then, there are the internal handlers giving out either good advice, or sh*tty advice.
I really like it when Obama lets down his guard and lets everyone see what he is really feeling, not just thinking. I bet it’s 10 points on his Gallup ratings. Seriously.