I'm talking about in a passionate sort of way. President Obama has a reputation as a relatively unflappable guy. We can never know what he's like in person, but his public persona is definitely one that might include words like "cucumber" and "ice." Personally, I've always liked that about him. If you read his books or listen to his speeches, you can tell that he is most certainly passionate about his philosophies and ideas. However, when it comes to staying cool under pressure, he's as good as anyone I've seen.
Remember during the election, when everyone realized that the economy had almost folded? That was in September. McCain's choice of Palin as running mate had fired up the right wing base; her handlers were still keeping her from the press, so no one knew yet what a dim bulb she really is; McCain was making progress in the polls, and the results were a virtual dead heat. Then the economy crisis hit. Obama's reaction was to study the problem and try to put together what had happened and what could be done, both now and in the future so the chances of this happening again are lessened. McCain's strategy, after three days of congressional hearings, was to announce that he was [cue trumpet sound] suspending his campaign, and the scheduled debate with Obama should be postponed! This was so he could rush to Washington to see what he could do to solve the problem! He probably even pictured himself riding into D.C. on a white horse (It sure as hell wouldn't be a black horse...HA! I couldn't resist.), but all I could think was, "What does he think that is going to accomplish?" I saw it as an attempt to grab headlines (McCain Suspends Campaign To Deal With Financial Crisis!) rather than any sort of real effort or belief that he could possibly do any good.
Of course, it did no good whatsoever, and his participation in discussions was limited. The day that he announced he was suspending his campaign, he canceled an appearance on Letterman...and then was caught on tape getting made up for an appearance with Katie Couric on CBS News. Letterman ridiculed him thoroughly, and the video of him sitting in the makeup chair was quite funny when compared with his urgent need to get back to Washington. In short, McCain came across as looking like a kneejerk reactionary trying to garner some free headlines, while Obama appeared deliberative and serious. I think it was a big turning point in the campaign. It certainly solidified my choice, because it only strengthened my belief of who would react better in a crisis. (And I believe that has been borne out.)
With the continued crisis of the Gulf oil spill, the Obama administration has taken heat for not handling the crisis better, or perhaps sooner. I think the latter is a bogus charge; they were informed and engaged from day one. Were there things they could have done differently or better? I don't know for sure, although the President himself has said there is always room for improvement, and takes ultimate responsibility for being in charge of the management of the crisis. I think it's being blown out of proportion by his opponents. Not the crisis, of course. That's about as bad as bad can get. But I think his critics are claiming that he has mishandled this, and I don't believe that's true. I was not pleased that he authorized the drilling; the shortsightedness of those chanting "Drill, baby, drill!" (nottomentionanynamesSarahPalin), the foolish belief that this would help decrease our dependence on foreign oil (it's a drop in the oil barrel), the inability to see the consequences of what might happen in a worst-case scenario (I guess we're seeing that now, aren't we?)...any short term gains have not only been wiped out by this disaster, they have been mind-bogglingly obliterated. A huge swath of fragile environment, thousands of animals and birds, a fragile ecosystem, oyster farms, people's livelihoods...all wiped out.
The responsibility for this disaster does not lie solely upon any one person or entity or administration. People fucked up on many levels based on what I'm reading, whether it was laxity on the issue of permits, special interest pandering, companies like Halliburton letting faulty work get by (Hmm, Halliburton...why does that ring a bell?), BP sacrificing safety for profit...it's sickening and tragic in every way, and we can't even begin to know the long term effects of this horror. But that isn't the point of this entry. I know we're all heartsick and disgusted about it, and I can hardly bear to look at the pictures.
Back to the cool factor. Along with the criticism of the Obama administration for their handling of this, I'm reading criticism of him personally, saying that he is too cool about this, that he doesn't understand the full impact of this disaster, doesn't sympathize with those who make their living from the ocean or those who simply love it, just doesn't feel passionately enough about this. When he showed a glimpse of his personal involvement in this, talking about his daughter Malia asking if he'd plugged the hole yet, professional asshole Glenn Beck (and he's highly successful in that endeavor) mocked not the President, but his daughter for asking the question, ridiculing her and questioning her education. If you found that in any way funny, please stop following me right now. I don't want your readership. Seriously.
I understand the President on this one. I have, on occasion, been accused of being "cold-hearted." I think anyone who really knows me knows that is far from true. In some respects, I'm far too tender-hearted for my own good. I still remember hitting a cat on my way home from work one evening...this was probably fifteen years ago, and I remember exactly how pretty it looked, just as if it were sleeping, except for the vacant eyes. I remember hitting a squirrel that ran out in front of my car several years ago here, and how I cried when I walked back out to the road and confirmed that I had indeed crushed it. I remember picking up a hummingbird that had broken its neck on the window, cradling the poor little thing in my hands and stroking its tiny little head. I am far from cold-hearted.
But when it comes to moments of true crisis--all of the above are tragic moments, but not true crises--I tend to shut down. I put on my stoic face, I go into crisis management mode, and I can be very aloof. I'm the person who, if we were in a crisis together and you flipped the fuck out, would grab you by the shoulders and shake you, smack you across the face if I had to, tell you to get a grip, and direct you to do what needed to be done. We all deal with grief, anger, and other strong emotions in our own ways. I tend to keep my moments like that personal, and in the presence of others do my best to keep my cool. I do not collapse from grief. You can call it right or wrong to deal with things that way, but if we were on a plane crash together, would you rather have some dipshit collapsing and wailing in the aisle so that no one could get through, or would you rather have me yanking him to his feet and telling him to shut up or get out of the way? Would you rather have the histrionic John McCain suspending his campaign or Barack Obama learning more about the situation and knowing what can and can't be done in the short term?
Would you rather have a highly emotional President who reacts with extreme passion (maybe faux-crying like Glenn Beck) or one who tries to remain calm while all about him are losing their shit? I know which one I want. This criticism of the President's "lack of passion" is ridiculous. I know quite well that it is possible to feel passionately about something but remain calm. It is highly desirable to lead rather than to panic. If one person is able to keep their shit together, it can calm others down and get them to do the same. No one can think clearly when in a state of panic. Throwing one's hands in the air and wailing "Oh Jeebus, what do we doooo?" does no one any good. What we DO is start thinking about things clearly and rationally, formulate a plan, and then get to work.
If you don't want to be a part of that, then get the fuck out of the way.