Why Obama Certainly Is 'Tough Enough'

A National Journal cover story poses the question, "Is Obama Tough Enough?" Pundits answer with an exasperated "yes."

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Last Friday's National Journal cover story posed a question that's been dogging the president since he was a candidate: "Is Obama Tough Enough?" Author Kirk Victor reviewed recent comments on President Obama's political style and came to the following conclusion:

Nine months into his term, President Obama has still not settled that question, but a narrative is emerging among some columnists, pundits, and academics across the political spectrum that Obama's low-key, cool, cerebral style, while reassuring on many levels, lacks the punch that is sometimes needed to advance an agenda in Washington, and in a perilous world.

But is it true? Many pundits are denying that Obama's toughness is an issue at all, looking back to similar criticisms leveled at Lincoln and Roosevelt. By pointing out the conventional wisdom, Victor seems to have shifted it.

  • May I Point You to Lincoln?  "Abraham Lincoln," begins Domenico Montaro of MSNBC's First Read team, "faced similar criticism (many abolitionists and Radical Republicans didn’t think Lincoln’s opposition to slavery went far enough while president). Then again, when the chips were down, Lincoln was certainly tough (the Emancipation Proclamation, demanding full surrender from the South at the end of the Civil War)."
  • History Will Laugh at This One  P.M. Carpenter, a.k.a. The Fifth Columnist at Buzzflash, also finds the question of Obama's "toughness" historically questionable. "[A]s a student of history," Carpenter writes, "I can guarantee you that in 70 years," as with President Franklin Roosevelt, "American progressives will be saying, Remember when we had that dynamo of progressivism, Barack Obama, in the White House? Yes, those were the happy days of real, and tough, presidential determination."
  • Let's Hope This Debate Doesn't Grow  Conservative commentator George Will, speaking at This Week's roundtable, points out that when President Kennedy was assailed by similar accusations of weakness, he--unhelpfully--got tough on Vietnam. Will is hoping Obama won't feel similarly pressured into a foolish show of strength over Afghanistan.
  • Irrelevant  Fellow conservative Peggy Noonan thinks the entire debate misguided. Obama's problems, she says, are about policy, not personality: "If his political judgment were more respected I think he'd be in a better position but it's not that people don't fear him"
  • Newsflash: He's About to Pass Health Care Reform  Paul Krugman thinks longstanding Democratic disorganization is what this debate is about, rather than Obama's individual style of governing. That said, he does think the timing of the discussion rather odd: "he’s about to get health care reform. He’s about to get the biggest change in our system since Medicare," Krugman argues. "That’s not the mark of a president who’s showing himself insufficiently tough. " 
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