Barack Obama is aloof. Barack Obama is cerebral. Barack Obama lacks Bill Clinton's gift for political empathy. Barack Obama is out of touch with the angry, frustrated mood of the country. If he hopes to rebound from the Democrats' midterm wipe out, Barack Obama will have to adopt a more populist tone.
If you've read any political journalism this week, you'll have come across variations of this analysis, and probably not for the first time. The idea that Obama should ditch his unflappable aura in exchange for a little populist fervor has been near-ubiquitous among the chatterati throughout his presidency: Back in June, Salon's Alex Pareene poked fun at the anger-unmanagement advice of pundits from Maureen Dowd to Joe Scarborough in a post entitled, "Why won't Obama just get even madder about this oil spill?"
The heavy GOP tilt of the white working class in the midterms has given this argument renewed currency. As my old TNR colleague (and friend) Noam Scheiber notes:
For months now, a variety of left-leaning pundits have warned Democrats to strike a more populist tone if they want to survive politically.... Looking over the reams of data that the midterms generated, is there any evidence that the kibitzers were right? The short answer is yes.
For what it's worth, I agree, though with a couple of major caveats where Obama himself is concerned. An obvious one is that the president is by disposition not particularly suited to populist appeals. (To anyone who's forgotten what can go wrong with such mismatches between message and messenger, I refer you to Al Gore's "People versus the Powerful" persona.)
But another concern, though more obvious still, tends to be overlooked or understated in these discussions: President Obama is a black man--and, as such, has unique cause to be wary of the adjective "angry."