Obama's Favorite Word: 'Frustration'

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Everywhere President Obama looks these days -- protesters, polls, liberals, conservatives, Congress, his own supporters -- he seems to see one thing: frustration. When President Obama wants to talk about his bad poll numbers without really talking about his bad poll numbers, he talks about "frustrations." When he gives speeches, he wants voters to know he's aware of "frustrations," and where they might direct them. When he goes to campaign fundraisers, he lets donors know he's picked up on their frustrations, and that they need patience. Sometimes, he gets frustrated too -- with faceless entities like "Washington" or with someone he knows quite well. A guide to all the things that have frustrated Obama in recent days:

People Who Are Frustrated with Obama:

  • Democratic lawmakers. From a press conference in the White House East Room, October 6, 2011:
Now, with respect to working with Congress, I think it’s fair to say that I have gone out of my way in every instance, sometimes at my own political peril and to the frustration of Democrats, to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward -- in every instance, whether it was during the lame duck session, when we were able to get an agreement on making sure that the payroll tax was cut in the first place, and making sure that unemployment insurance was extended, to my constant efforts during the debt ceiling to try to get what’s been called a grand bargain, in which we had a balanced approach to actually bringing down our deficit and debt in a way that wouldn’t hurt our recovery.
  • Libyans. From a high-level meeting at the United Nations, September 20, 2011:
After decades of iron rule by one man, it will take time to build the institutions needed for a democratic Libya.  I’m sure there will be days of frustration; there will be days when progress is slow; there will be days when some begin to wish for the old order and its illusion of stability.  And some in the world may ask, can Libya succeed?  But if we have learned anything these many months, it is this:  Don’t underestimate the aspirations and the will of the Libyan people.  
  • Tea Partiers. From a town hall meeting in Decorah, Iowa, August 15, 2011, when a member of the audience asked about Tea Party rhetoric, the union fight in Wisconsin, and the Republican candidates:
I do think that, whether it’s the tea party or activists from whatever walk of life, as I said before, democracy has always been rambunctious in this country.  And that’s part of what makes America great, is everybody can express their opinions.  And there is real anger and frustration -- understandable -- about the economic situation that we’re finding ourselves in.  I get that.  
Think about it, we came in -- you’ve got a bunch of irresponsible actors, both in Washington and on Wall Street, that almost brought this economy to the ground, and suddenly everybody else is paying for it.  And I think the tea party is an expression of that anger and frustration, as much as sort of the activism on the Democratic side is an expression of anger and frustration.  Obviously, I agree more with the view that it wasn’t big government per se that caused this crash, it wasn’t food stamps or public employee unions that caused this crash, and that we should direct our anger effectively at how do we prevent the most powerful forces in our society from acting irresponsibly.  
  • Liberals. From a speech at a New York Democratic fundraiser, August 11, 2011:
Now that [Martin Luther King Jr.] has his own memorial on the Mall I think that we forget when he was alive there was nobody who was more vilified, nobody who was more controversial, nobody who was more despairing at times.  There was a decade that followed the great successes of Birmingham and Selma in which he was just struggling, fighting the good fight, and scorned, and many folks angry.  But what he understood, what kept him going, was that the arc of moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.  But it doesn’t bend on its own.  It bends because all of us are putting our hand on the arc and we are bending it in that direction. And it takes time. And it's hard work. And there are frustrations.  
  • Latinos. From a speech to the National Council of La Raza in Washington, July 25, 2011:
We need a movement that bridges party lines, that unites business and labor and faith communities and law enforcement communities, and all who know that America cannot continue operating with a broken immigration system...
And I know that can be frustrating.  This is a city where “compromise” is becoming a dirty word; where there’s more political upside in doing what’s easier for reelection, what’s easier for an attack ad, than what’s best for the country.  But, NCLR, I want you to know, when you feel frustration or you’re feeling cynical, and when you hear people say we can’t solve our problems or we can’t bring about the change that we’ve fought so hard for, I do want you to remember everything that we’ve already accomplished together just in two and a half years.  And I want you to remember why we do this in the first place.
I have delivered on what I promised. Now, that doesn’t mean our work is done. There are going to be times where you’re still frustrated with me. I know there are going to be times where you’re still frustrated at the pace of change. I understand that. I know I can count on you to let me know. This is not a shy group.
From a speech to a Democratic fundraiser in New York, June 23, 2011:
And that is -- look, that’s the power of our democratic system.  It’s not always pretty.  There are setbacks.  There are frustrations.  But in grappling with tough and, at times, emotional issues in legislatures and in courts and at the ballot box, and, yes, around the dinner table and in the office hallways, and sometimes even in the Oval Office, slowly but surely we find the way forward.

People Obama Is Frustrated With:

House Republicans. From a town hall in Atkinson, Illinois, August 17, 2011:
People have been asking me, well, why didn’t you call Congress back after this whole debt ceiling thing?  Why’d you let them leave town?  I say, well, I don’t think it would be good for business confidence and certainty just to see members of Congress arguing all over again.  I figured it was time for them to spend a little time back in their districts, hear your frustrations, hear your expectations. 
House Republicans. From a town hall meeting in Decorah, Iowa, August 15, 2011.
What [House Republicans] need to do is come to Decorah or go to Cannon Falls or meet with their constituents back home and hear the frustration and understand that people are sick and tired of the nonsense and the political games.  And hopefully, when they come back in September, they’re going to have a wakeup call that says we need to move the country forward.  You’ve got to start focusing on doing the people’s business.  (Applause.)  That’s what everybody is expecting. 
House Republicans. From a speech at Johnson Controls in Holland, Michigan, August 11, 2011:
You know, in the aftermath of this whole debt ceiling debacle, and when the market’s going up and down like they are, there’s been a lot of talk in Washington right now that I should call Congress back early.  The last thing we need is Congress spending more time arguing in D.C.  (Applause.)  What I figure is, they need to spend more time out here listening to you and hearing how fed up you are.  (Applause.)  That’s why I’m here.  That’s why I’ll be traveling to a lot of communities like this one over the next week.  That’s what Congress should be doing -- go back home, listen to people’s frustrations with all the gridlock.  
Did he mention House Republicans? From a speech at a Washington fundraiser at the St. Regis hotel, August 8, 2011:
But when it comes to, for example, dealing with our long-term debt and deficit, the problem is not that we don’t know the math.  We’ve had commission after commission after commission looking at this thing.  And the challenge is simply that the politics in this town doesn’t seem to be equipped to make modestly tough choices ...
The good news is that I think there has been enough frustration at Washington -- it sort of reached a fever pitch last week -- that we’re now looking at 16 months in which there’s going to be a clear contrast and a clear choice to be made...
For all the frustrations and the challenges and resistance we have to bringing about change, when I’ve got you guys behind me.
Himself. From the transcript of a Democratic fundraiser in San Francisco, April 20, 2011:
OBAMA: This campaign is still at its early stages, but now is the time when you can shape it. Now is the time when you can get out of the gate strong. I know there are times where some of you have felt frustrated because we haven't gotten everything done as fast as we wanted. We didn't get everything exactly the way we had planned.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Single-payer.
OBAMA: See, there? Case in point, right? All right. See I knew I'd open up this can of worms. (Laughter.)
Look, there are times where I felt the same way that you do. This is a big, complicated, messy democracy. Change is not simple...
Not everybody agrees with us. Not everybody agrees in this auditorium about issues. That's part of what makes this country special, is the nature of our democracy. And so sometimes it can be frustrating. And I know there are times where you're sitting there and you're thinking, golly, you know, Obama, he's made some compromise with the Republicans on this or that. Or, how come he's -- he should have done it this way. Everybody is a political consultant. (Laughter.) And if he had just phrased it that way, I'm sure we could have gotten health care done in two months. (Laughter and applause.) You know who I'm talking about -- you. That's right...
Sometimes I get frustrated. There are times where I am just so burdened by the fact that there are still so many folks out there who we haven't -- haven't gotten the help that they need. And so I understand how you guys feel. But we knew this wouldn't be easy. We knew that on a journey like this there were going to be setbacks, there were going to be detours. There were going to be some times where we stumbled.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.