Tag: Maureen Dowd

You Feel Me?

The MoDo column I criticize below exemplifies the warped notion that we should view the president as a benevolent national Father-Protector.  But it’s also a good example of a related phenomenon, the apparently unquenchable yearning for Presidential Empathy.

“Once more,” she writes, “President Spock”  has “willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.”  There’s a little tension between Dowd’s desire for a presidential father figure and her demand for a “Feeler in Chief.”  She seems to want a daddy who cries a lot.

But this understanding of the president’s role is hardly unique to her:

Introducing his 1996 presidential ranking survey, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. declared that a great president needed to “have a deep connection with the needs, anxieties, dreams of the people.” Of course, the ability to channel the collective soul of the American volk isn’t a skill that the chief magistrate needs in order to faithfully execute the laws or defend the country from foreign attacks.

Maybe so, but most public intellectuals have a much broader view of the president’s job.  Which may explain why disdain for Obama’s “No Drama” affect is so common among the chattering classes.

This president is too cool, too reserved, too professorial, they charge.  He has “a stony, cool temperament,” (Peggy Noonan);  His “above-the-fray mien… does not communicate empathy” (Richard Cohen), and he shrinks from “lead[ing] the nation emotionally” (Jon Meacham). “I wasn’t feeling it,” MoDo’s Times colleague Charles Blow grumbled after Obama insisted he was “angry” about the spill.  (Really, press secretary Joe Gibbs insisted yesterday, “I’ve seen rage from him.” He “clenched” his jaw.)

I have more than my share of complaints about this president.  But this is one that leaves me, er, cold.  It seems to me that it’s to Obama’s credit that he’s not a blubbery empath like Bill Clinton.  It’s good that he’s reluctant to play the role of podium-pounding blustery populist.  Thank God for small favors.

Over the last century, the Framers’ limited, businesslike presidency has been transformed into an extraconstitutional monstrosity that promises everything and guarantees nothing, save public frustration and the steady growth of state power.  When American “opinion leaders” join together to lament the fact that the president’s not an effective enough demagogue, it’s not hard to understand how we got here.

Daddy Issues

My Washington Examiner column this week looks at the bipartisan conniption over President Obama’s “responsibility” for the Gulf oil spill:

It’s “taking so doggone long,” Sarah Palin wailed, for Obama “to dive in there” (literally?). “Man, you got to get down here and take control!” James Carville screeched. “Tell BP, ‘I’m your daddy!’ “

When Hurricane Katrina hit, liberals who had spent years calling President Bush a tyrant suddenly decided he wasn’t authoritarian enough when he hesitated to declare himself generalissimo of New Orleans and muster the troops for a federal War on Hurricanes.

Now the party of “drill, baby, drill” – the folks who warn that Obama’s a socialist – is screaming bloody murder because he’s letting the private sector take the lead in the well-capping operation. It’s almost enough to make a guy cynical about politics.

“Did you plug the hole yet, daddy?” is an understandable reaction from an 11-year-old like Malia Obama.  Grown-up pols and pundits have no such excuse, however, and when they confuse the chief executive with an all-powerful father-protector, the results are likely to be bad policy and an increasingly imperial presidency.

Right on cue, as I was finishing the column, came Sunday’s New York Times with a pair of cringe-inducing opeds illustrating the perils of presidential “daddyism.”  According to their bios,  Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd are 57 and 58 years old, respectively. You’d never guess it from their columns.

Friedman urges Obama to “react to this spill as a child would.” (Aren’t plenty of people doing that already?)

Like a chirpy, earnest kindergarten teacher, Friedman insists us that

Kids get it. They ask: ….Why aren’t we doing more to create clean power and energy efficiency when so many others, even China, are doing so? And, Daddy, why can’t you even mention the words “carbon tax,” when the carbon we spill into the atmosphere every day is just as dangerous to our future as the crude oil that has been spilling into the gulf?

That is what a child would want to know if he or she could vote.

And if you think a surfeit of political maturity is our major problem these days, maybe we should expand the suffrage to grade-schoolers.

On the opposite page, Maureen Dowd echoes a theme she struck back in January, when she complained that with his calm, sober reaction to the failed Christmas bombing, Obama missed his “moment to be president…. to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders.”  As I wrote at the time, “Could there be a more infantile conception of the chief executive’s role?”

In Sunday’s column, MoDo whines that Obama’s acting like “President Spock,” instead of our “Feeler in Chief.”  How, she asks, can we possibly survive with a chief executive who  ”scorns the paternal aspect of the presidency”?

I don’t know, maybe we could… grow up?