Monday, November 8, 2010

Why Can't Obama Get Mad?

I'm as in favor of "cool" as the next guy. I also like a good snide remark, a nuanced response, a snippy reply. But a little controlled anger can be an excellent political tool as well.

Being the battler-in-chief presiding over a nasty, ugly sport - politics - a sort of Beyond The Thunderdome played in business suits - does not confer on the President the right to persist in rising above the messy fray obsessively, pathologically. We want a leader, not a powder puff.

Mr. Obama wears white gloves when he needs to be wearing work gloves.

Or better yet, boxing gloves.

Obama clings to cool.

One suspects at first that he is reluctant drop the smoothness because he just really, really likes his ultra cool, jazz world sang-froid. We suspect him of a form of narcissism.

Or one can ascribe it to his upbringing in Hawaii, one of the epicenters of laid back behavior. (Honk your horn aggressively there and they're ready to call the men in the white coats. Jaywalk and citizens go into convulsions - politely, of course.)

Perhaps we suspect Obama's inner coil because, in his rise to the political heap, he didn't have to scrap for decades like a Nixon, fight a world war like Ike, endure speculation about his intellectual worth like Truman, nor overcome a devastating disease like FDR. Regardless, his is a hard soul to plumb.

This is not to say that Obama hasn't had obstacles to surmount. Lord knows that becoming the first black president is an accomplishment that took enormous effort and considerable elan. Overcoming the perverse reactions to the color of one's skin, poverty, and feelings of being an outsider are nothing to sneeze at.

Which brings us to the Angry Black Man of mythology and history, for I believe it is that burden that prevents Obama from lambasting his relentless, unscrupulous attackers.

The rage of Malcom X, the glorious in-your-face attitude of Muhammed Ali, the raised fists at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City seem relics of another day. 

The 1960s were an angry time - far angrier than today - when war atrocities came with your bacon and eggs, when we regularly saw dogs and hoses turned on our fellow citizens, when women were regularly put down without a whiff of ramification, when an adolescent boy could catch a beating for having long hair, when children were treated as chattel, and the leaden hangover from World War II imbued society with a relentless conformity.

It was those social norms that led to rioting, massive demonstrations, bombings, and a left-right polarization the likes of which those under 45 can scarcely fathom.

Woven throughout this rebellion was the Anger of the Black Man. It was, and is, inescapable - unless you are President Obama, who seems intent on not indulging himself in this anger, on not using it to gain noble political ends.

He is terribly, terribly wrong to avoid doing so.

The caricaturing of him as everything from a monkey to a watermelon farmer to Adolph Hitler to Stalin should have been enough.

The attacks on everything from his birthplace to his clothing to his wife and girls to his "Muslim background" should have been enough.

The mindless attacks on his relatively mild policies should have been enough.

We are reminded of the righteous anger of FDR after Pearl Harbor. We are reminded of the battle cry that partisans shouted to Truman - "Give 'em hell, Harry!" Of Reagan's battle-horn blaring - "Tear down this wall." We are reminded of JFK's first inaugural address suffused with controlled anger - "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." (A word of warning to the truculent Soviets.)

Mr. Obama: you must be willing to pay any price, bear any burden, even if it means flirting with the stereotype of the Angry Black Man.

You must find it in your belly to rise up and strike down the radical right wing harshly, filled with piss and vinegar, with blood and guts. The left, and I believe the center and perhaps even the center right, aches to hear you fight back using righteous controlled anger. We all want you to succeed.

Other presidents - all white, obviously - have loosed their anger to work for them and the country. You need to find the meaningful core of your own anger and outrage - we know it's there, you're human after all - and express it full-throated and powerfully against the enemies of progress.

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