'Like a Dog': The Origins of Barack Obama's Petulance
I would be miffed too if I were Obama
Obama in just twenty months has developed a reputation for being petulant, unusually sensitive to the normal run-of-the-mill criticism. His latest pushback was his strangest so far: “And they’re not always happy with me. They talk about me like a dog. That’s not in my prepared remarks, it’s just -- but it’s true.”
Given that Obama has previously called out talk radio critics by name -- Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh -- attacked everything from limb-lopping surgeons to vacationing at Las Vegas, and in condescending fashion tsk-tsked those who attend Glenn Beck rallies, rural Pennsylvanians, and his own “typical white person” grandmother who raised him, his thin-skin touchiness seems inexplicable.
Surely the most powerful man in the world knows that when you elevate talk radio critics to near-equal adversaries, then one cannot complain that they press their now high-profile serial attacks even further.
Add that his team has indulged in invective like few recent administrations -- whether Obama’s own slur against the stereotyping and stupidly acting police, Eric Holder’s collective denunciation of Americans as “cowards,” Van Jones’ various hysterics (e.g., polluting and mass-murdering whites, Bush in on 9/11, etc.), Anita Dunn’s attacks against Fox News, or the generic “Bush did it” chorus.
The wonder is not that Obama is angry at criticism, but why he is so surprised in a weird "how dare they?" fashion.
Various explanations come to mind. Like the early presidential years of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Obama has experienced a radical drop in approval ratings. His preconceived notions about the world abroad have proven shockingly therapeutic. He must be disappointed that an Ahmadinejad or Putin is not swayed by his charisma and does what he pleases, which is mostly to oppose America and its interests whenever he can. Messianic disappointment with an unappreciative lesser world can explain a lot.
Keynesian economics did not pan out. Pundits without the responsibility of governance, who advised him to borrow trillions, now abandon him for not borrowing more trillions. He must be confused why he is both being attacked by friends and yet unable to borrow his way to recovery.
Yet Obama’s petulance, I think, more likely derives from a certain surprise -- leading to anger -- that originates from novel and sudden demands for accountability. Quite simply, no one has dared question Obama before -- much less press him for deeds to match his mellifluous words.
Did he really think he could talk his way through four years of the American presidency?
Apparently, he did, and apparently he was almost right -- given that rhetoric and sophistry earned him the presidency in the first place. In what follows, I hold some empathy for Obama’s pique; you see in some sense those around him suddenly changed the rules, and what in the past had been habit and custom no longer quite applied.
An Old Story
This is an old story with a long heritage. We know Obama got into Columbia; we have no idea what he accomplished there -- or whether his undergraduate transcript merited admission to Harvard Law School. Obama may have charmed his way into Harvard Law Review, but in brilliant fashion he seems to have guessed rightly that once there he would be singularly exempt from the usual requirements of quantifiable achievement.
A part-time visiting law professorship at the University of Chicago Law school rarely leads to a permanent tenure-track position, much less a tenured billet-- and never without a body of published articles and books. In Obama’s case those protocols simply did not apply. He was not only offered whatever he wanted, but as Justice Kagan reminded us, Obama was courted by Harvard Law School as well.
Most candidates for state office do not sue to remove their opponents from the ballot. Obama petitioned (successfully) that most of them be disqualified in 1995. It is likewise rare for the sealed divorce records of a front-running primary rival to be mysteriously leaked, prompting a veritable uncontested nomination. But after Democratic rival Blair Hull imploded from such revelations, so did Obama’s general election Republican opponent Jack Ryan, who dropped out of the race after his divorce proceedings were eerily likewise exposed. Lightning does strike twice in the same place for the blessed Obama.