Questions About Obama’s Calmness

by on December 17th, 2010

Is Barack Obama’s calmness a mask hiding layers of uncertainty about his role as president? Is the President’s seemingly unflappable persona a cover for his frequent failure to use the full range of powers of his office? As others have pointed out, in utter frustration, the President too often offers the Republicans what they want before hard bargaining even begins. Why is this happening?

Both Jackie Robinson, who was the first black Major Leaguer and Obama, the first black President faced enormous pressure to avoid being labeled the “angry black man.”

Once Robinson demonstrated his great abilities, he became free to be as aggressive as any white player. The question for Obama is: can he free himself to aggressively and effectively employ the substantial leverage that his office bestows on him? My considered judgment is that it will take intense personal growth to accomplish that.

The reason is that Obama’s ability to remain calm and seemingly in control is, I believe, unlike Robinson’s self constraint. The President’s composure most likely has its roots well below the surface. If I am correct the President will be hard-pressed to change. Indeed, how does a President find time for self-reflection or counseling under the pressure of an infinitely demanding office?

If he has awareness and wants to change, the President should consider carefully whether and when to try to break through his own emotional shield. That decision may be one of the most difficult of his presidency. It is because his beginning attempts might seem out of character, and inappropriate. An example was when the President called the Wall Street bankers “fat cats” on 60 Minutes on Sunday night, when he knew he was going to meet with them Monday morning to encourage them to lend more to small businesses. Whatever he decides, there are still many things he can do.

Protecting his own persona is vital and so he should have people with skills like James Carville and Paul Begala at his side countering the outrageous attacks from the far right.

Without such powerful advocates he is allowing his opposition free reign to characterize what he does as extreme even when often it is quite mild and middle of the road.

By avoiding being characterized as the “angry black man” and by projecting the aura of someone who knows how to stay in control, he may unwittingly be inciting the hyper-hysterical members of the media and the Tea Party to provoke him with ever more bizarre accusations. One of the aims of these attacks is to force him to lose control and to indeed act like the “angry black man.” When he or his staff do not respond, he appears weak and is prey to plain old bullying. A President should not allow himself to be in such a position and there are experienced professionals ready to set up a war room to instantaneously counter unsubstantiated attacks.

Furthermore, instead of letting the country know he is in charge and not Wall Street, he is allowing major financiers to continue their old reckless gambling, self-aggrandizing ways. If Roosevelt had the power to close the banks, why is Obama’s arms seemingly tied in a knot? The least he can do is to insist that the rules being written and implemented under the recently passed Wall Street reform act succeed in holding the financiers as accountable as possible.

In a different matter, he did take executive action. He empowered the EPA to begin the process of regulating heat-trapping gases. He was and is reluctant, however, to be emphatic about it. Why not broadcast widely that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is taking ground breaking initiatives to deal with the climate crisis? Instead it was recently reported In the NY Times that new controls will be postponed from January to July 2011. I believe he will receive public support if he resolves to act affirmatively., even though Jay Rockefeller and other Democratic Senators from coal mining states threaten to close down the EPA’s powers under the Clean Air Act. In order to forestall such a move the President should reaffirm his message that he will veto any attempt to mitigate the authority of the EPA on climate crises issues.

What especially bewilders the public is that Obama while campaigning proved to be one of the greatest orators in history, but on becoming President he is unable to explain what he is trying to do in every day terms.

For example, to this day he hasn’t explained how he is going to take one half trillion dollars from Medicare and still improve upon it dramatically; nor has he explained to the public how he can enroll 30 million more people onto the rolls of health insurance and be able to pay for it. In order for the health care legislation to become better understood, why not send every household in the country a brief outline describing how it would work, and how it would be more than financially self-sustaining?

Along these lines Obama should carefully consider the new report from the Center for American Progress detailing a myriad of executive powers constitutionally available to his office. Here are only a few examples —

“Conserve federal lands for future generations; Manage public lands to support a balanced energy strategy;

Launch the new consumer financial protection bureau with an aggressive agenda to protect and empower consumers; Accelerate the implementation of the Small Business Jobs Act; Speed up home mortgage modifications.”

President Barack Obama gave up the opportunity of the century when he allowed the Bush tax cuts to continue. Has there been a time in our history when a president had the unquestionable authority to end an immoral gift to the wealthy?

From this day forward, every move the president makes will be measured against what he gave away with hardly lifting a finger.

Abe Markman, MSW is a recipient of The New York Society for Ethical Culture 2010 Community Service Award, and has fifty years of professional experience as a social worker. He is the co-founder of the Neighborhood Self-Help By Older Persons Project (Neighborhood SHOPP) in the Bronx, NY.

Abe Markman