Ishmael Reed had an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday that looked at why President Obama doesn’t lose his cool.
Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.
One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.
What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.
In short, when white people see black men get angry, a good number of them, especially conservatives, see Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael, and Louis Farrakhan — the latter which subliminally supports the “Obama is a Muslim” meme. Mr. Reed is noting that is part of the black culture to suppress emotional outbursts lest it frighten the white folks. That might explain why so many people were surprised last week when Mr. Obama showed a tinge of sarcasm and emotion when he was defending his tax cut compromise with the Republicans. And it was a little more than discouraging when it was the Democrats who muttered under their breath that Mr. Obama was getting, for lack of a better term, uppity for not keeping them as his minders while he negotiated. And in the eyes of some, Mr. Obama can’t win for losing; Maureen Dowd has already labeled him as Spock for failing to show any emotions at all, as if being able to keep from losing it was a character flaw.
There’s an additional element to this. As Steve M notes, it’s not just Mr. Obama who has to hold his emotions in check. That applies to the Democrats on a whole. If it was President Hillary Clinton getting angry, she’d be called a bitch, and we’ve already seen how Nancy Pelosi was demonized for having the temerity to challenge the patriarchy. But it also applies to white men who are Democrats. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) went on the floor of the House and made a mockery of the GOP health care plan and went over the top with his campaign commercials. He lost his seat in the last election. On the other hand, John Boehner railed that the healthcare reform would bring on Armageddon and his “Hell No You Can’t” became a YouTube sensation. He’s the next Speaker of the House. Last night on 60 Minutes he cried, something he’s famous for, and then whined about President Obama being “disrespectful.” (That also implies another meme: black men should never be disrespectful of the white man.) Not only did no one tell him to “man up,” he’ll probably get high praise from his supporters for showing how genuine he is and how deeply he loves his country. Let Steny Hoyer puddle up, though, and he’d be called a sissy by Rush Limbaugh.
Whether by nature or by cultural teaching, it is probably not part of Barack Obama’s personality to lose his cool. And as Mr. Reed notes, it’s not for the white man — progressive or otherwise — to tell him how to behave.