Would an 'Angry' Obama Be More Successful?

Is it time to take off the gloves and "slug" opponents?

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"If Democrats are routed next week, some of them may wonder whether it is possible to be too cool and collected in the face of calamity," observed Ronald Brownstein in a National Journal column days before the midterms. Calls for the president to summon more heated emotion were loud around the BP oil spill, and have crescendoed again in the aftermath of the disconcerting election results.

So, again, here come arguments for Obama to get "angry" and "slug" at his political opponents. This is what the American people want from their president in a time of conflict, this line of thinking goes. If Obama can't deliver some passion and stand up to Majority Leader John Boehner, there's no way he can convince the public that his accomplishments these past two years have been successful. Naturally, others believe these critics need to tone down the rhetoric a touch.

  • It's Time for Obama to Start 'Sweating' and 'Slugging'  The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof finds the president's current style to be a bit "dry," as if he's taken to heart Mario Cuomo's dictum: 'We campaign in poetry, and we govern in prose.' Instead he proposes that Obama get back to the trenches and focus not only on "optimal policies but also on pithy messages." If Obama manages to "lose his cool" then he will be well on his way (if the economy recovers) to "still be remembered as one of our great presidents. One who served two terms."
  • Unfortunately, He Can't Seem to Get Away With Angry Populism  The Atlantic's Christopher Orr concedes that "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," but still argues that this won't be a successful strategy for the president. One understated reason is also an obvious one: "President Obama is a black man--and, as such, has unique cause to be wary of the adjective 'angry.'" Orr explains: "His composed, borderline uptight demeanor allayed white anxiety about his race; and, less self-evident but no less real, his being black saved him from the nerd purgatory of Adlai Stevensonism... those (often including myself) who wish he'd show a little more fire should keep in mind just how combustible that advice could prove."
  • But He Needs Confidence, Empathy and Assertiveness  Huffington Post writer Bob Jacobson, a self-described public policy activist, appears to have lost patience with a president who clarifies every phrase with the words "I think," rambles during questions, and believes that talking about "how depreciation works" will animate the American people. "Where's the empathy for the out of work stiffs, the immigrants who deserve an honest chance to contribute legally, the people who thought we were going to get real health care and instead got the industry's version?" Jacobson asks. Republicans "are going to sloganeer all over him. They are coming in fighting. He should have his dukes up and his strategy ready, and he should be able to rebut as well as to agree. It seems a weakness to be so accommodating, all the time."
  • Understand: The GOP Won't Compromise  "In the days before the elections, Obama was still sending I-can-work-with-them smoke signals," writes Mother Jones editor David Corn. "In other words, Obama didn't recognize that the tea party-ized GOP, which has striven to block his key initiatives and catered to corporate interests, is not likely to change its inclinations after these elections. In fact, the tea party influence is likely to be stronger, and that means the Republican impulse to obstruct will be more intense." Obama is in dire need of a "significant rewrite. If he doesn't get it right, there may not be a [next act]."
  • Obama: Stop Acting Like a Party Leader, Let Boehner Fight Congressional Battles  "Rather than plunge into the debate over whether Obama should 'move to the center' or adopt tactics of high-intensity conflict with congressional Republicans let me suggest another tack," proposes ThinkProgress blogger Matthew Yglesias. He proposes that Obama widen the scope of his duties outside just the congressional battles and let legislative negotiations be the problem for John Boehner. Obama will then have more time to spend on foreign policy, dealing with the lingering conflict in Afghanistan, continuing a dialogue with China and strengthening ties with India and Brazil. "There’s more to life than the United States Congress and deep engagement with the legislative process is not a politically rewarding undertaking. So let it go," concludes Yglesias.
  • Sure, He's Not Very Emotional. But He Doesn't Need To Be figures Time's Joe Klein in his prognosis of Obama's near-future: "Obama will probably never shed a tear in our presence. Nor will he indulge in what he regards as cheesy emotional displays of anger or enthusiasm. Without those tools, he'll have to be a much better working politician than he has been. But he remains widely respected by the American people, if not quite loved. And the next click of the political metronome could be heading his way."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.