AKIE BERMISS: Here’s a question for you: Is the President happy? Is he a happy fellow? Does he smile enough? Is he quick to kid, easy with his laugh, light and bright and delightful? I don’t know, honestly I haven’t thought about it. I mean, he seems like a pretty nice guy. He’s certainly capable to delivering a well-timed comedic barb. Still, its just not the first thing that springs to mind when I think: President Obama.
And according to Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post — it should be.
Well yeah, Fred. Now that you mention it, I guess he doesn’t seem all that happy. I guess he could work at being a touch more congenial. I suppose it might be better if, when held a press conference, he warmed up the crowd a bit before hand. If he came out and pressed some flesh and sang a few songs — I could see that improving most of the problems we’re having in America right now.
Or, maybe that really has nothing to do with anything. Is it possible that Obama doesn’t look ecstatic every time we see him on camera because a) we see him on camera a lot — and what kind of non-drugged person would ALWAYS be happy — and b) he’s dealing with one of the toughest Presidencies in decades?
I guess Bush had to deal with 9/11 and Katrina. Happy, smiling buffoon that he was — he must’ve done a bang-up job, right? And how did those two wars work out? The weapons of mass destruction? Maybe Hiatt is thinking more of the smiling, grandfatherly tones of Ronald Reagan! Reagan, now there is a intellectual giant we can all believe in. Trickle-down economics worked really well for America. Man, the 80s was a heck of a decade and I’m sure we have Ronald Reagan to thank for all that unbridled prosperity.
Yes, of course I’m being sarcastic. What kind of ridiculous reportage is this? I assume that some one is PAYING Fred Hiatt to write these masterpieces? Did he really conclude his article with speculating that if Obama acted happier we might feel some of the “good cheer we associate with FDR or JFK”? Look, I know those are out Democratic golden boys, but those guys didn’t preside of exactly the best of times. FDR had three and half terms to make people associate him with something other than The Great Depression. Nonetheless, he had WWII to deal with, Pearl Harbor, he let the Japanese internment camps be created, and basically fought everyday to give Americans the impression that the world wasn’t about to end.
And JFK? Well I don’t suppose Vietnam, The Bay of Pigs, or the Cuban Missile Crisis were much to worry about, eh? And I’m sure Kennedy dealt with it by telling a few lame jokes, yukking it up with Castro via sat-phone, and then going home and watch the Tonight Show.
As for BHO — what’s he dealing with? Let’s see: Iraq war, Afghanistan War, economic melt down, unemployment at 10 percent, an intractable Iranian regime, Israel spitting in the world’s eye, North Korea testing nuclear missiles, an insane deficit, and trying to pass Health Care Reform. Surely there’s time in there to stop and tell the one about the old man and the bear to a few pouting Americans, no?
As far as I’m concerned, if Obama being actually very successful means that he doesn’t look overjoyed to have spent nearly a third of his first term trying to get some kind of HCR passed (while also stopping the country from imploding) — then so be it.
Oh did I mention the failing banks, house foreclosures, and the auto-industry tanking? Just good clean fun for the whole family.
Anyway, do we really have time and space for this kind of criticism, Mr. Hiatt? Really? Saying that Obama is not as cool as Clinton because instead of putting is his feet up o the desk at the end of a hard day (and presumably flirting with his interns) he likes to go home and be with his family OR — god forbid — go and play basketball! You mean doing something active?! What’s wrong, Mr. President — why can’t you just be happy sitting there and dealing with everything? You should smile more.
You know, come to think of it, we should all smile more! A little more deliberate happiness is just what this country needs. You know, that might actually be the answer to all these problems: terrorism, unemployment, the deficit, war… They could all be fixed if we all just smiled more. You know, like in the good old days when everyone trusted each other. And decency was the norm. Why then I bet we’d be able to get a good days work done, provide for our families, and hear respectable music on the radio again.
Please, Mr. Hiatt. We’re not idiots. Langston Hughes used to have a character named Simple who was always getting into fixes because he was so simple-minded. But he knew when he was out of his league. When perhaps even he didn’t understand what was going on around him. Even still I’d warrant he would find your article a teensy bit too… simple.
HOWARD MEGDAL: It is hard to know which part of Fred Hiatt’s analysis is most ridiculous. Is it the “tough political time” when Obama is the most popular officeholder in Washington by far? That he would rather sustain himself with the love of family than the adoration of strangers on the campaign trail or meetings with foreign leaders? Or the fact that Hiatt diagnosed this problem just before President Obama passed Health Care Reform through both houses of Congress- for, let’s not forget, the second time.
I do think my favorite part is the discussion of Obama’s political troubles. Astonishingly, Obama’s approval rating has stayed right around 50 percent, give or take a few points either way, since the end of last summer. In other words, as Obama took political possession of what is still a horrific economy, all but a few points worth of the coalition that elected him have stayed in his corner.
Far from a political problem, the seriousness of purpose with which he attacks the job is a strong contrast to our last president, a man who could manage to seem unserious about some of the most important topics Americans have ever encountered, and whose ability to goof off did not abate for his eight years in office- leading, of course, to our serious times.
Let us not forget, though, that Barack Obama is hardly the last to crack a smile or a joke. Indeed, he got into trouble on his very first day in office by making light of Nancy Reagan’s astrology habit, and more winningly, he is often quick to deploy humor in his prepared remarks and interviews. He isn’t a prankster president- he is a president with wit, the kind John F. Kennedy made famous within the presidency.
Even Hiatt acknowledges the joy that Obama clearly gets from “Formulating rational solutions to complex problems”, so he’s not blind to what we all see: Obama loves, relishes the chance to solve seemingly intractable problems as president.
Hiatt’s right: Obama does spend more time deriving joy from this, and from his family, than he does from interns or making up nicknames for people who are standing nearby.
And yet somehow, the rough coalition that elected him seems almost happy about it.
And yet somehow, despite a less-than-thrilled approach to gladhandling, he managed a legislative accomplishment that the ultimate handshaker, Bill Clinton, never did.
The Obama smile and is deployed plenty, and appropriately. Precisely the qualities that Hiatt cites as problematic are what make Barack Obama a great politician, and a better president.