Do Americans want Obama to show more “emotion” — or is that just the lust of the drama-driven media?

LARRY KING: I know you appear so calm. Are you angry at BP?

OBAMA: You know, I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions. It’s imperiling not just a handful of people. This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years… [T]he one thing that I think is important to underscore is that I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people. But that’s not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem and ultimately this isn’t about me and how angry I am.

Poor Obama, he is no Howard Beale, and everybody in the TV business knows that anger drives ratings, which was a key point of satire of the classic movie,  Network.  Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote earlier this year:

Not long ago I was debating someone on television. I thought the discussion was going well until the commercial break when a producer said into my earpiece “be angrier.”

“Why should I be angrier?” I asked him, irritated that he hadn’t appreciated the thoughtfulness of debate.

“That’s how we get channel surfers to stop and watch the program,” the producer explained. “Eyeballs are attracted to anger.”

HuffPost’s Jason Linkins has a great post, “Obama’s Oil Spill Response: Do Americans Want Him To Show More Emotion? No, They Do Not,” which I’ll excerpt below.  He in turn cites another great post, by Alex Pareene, listing all of the media pundits demanding Obama throw a fit, “Why won’t Obama just get even madder about this oil spill?“:

Here are three questions CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid asked at yesterday’s White House press briefing:

Q You said earlier that the President is enraged. Is he enraged at BP specifically?
Q Frustration and rage are very different emotions, though. I haven’t — have we really seen rage from the President on this? I think most people would say no.
Q Can you describe it? Does he yell and scream? What does he do?

Important questions! Is the president more frustrated, or mad? Doesn’t he know that the oil will stop spilling into the Gulf if he just gets madder??

Maureen Dowd had a column this weekend, which opened “President Spock’s behavior is illogical.” Dowd used to be a good columnist, but her own penchant for style over substance, has apparently convinced her that’s what we need in our leaders.

Here are excerpts from Linkins piece:

One would think that it would be widely recognized that rational decision-making is actually undermined by working oneself into a state of extreme emotional duress, but who knows? Maybe as soon as Obama displays the magical gesture from 19th-century staged melodramas, the oil will know we mean business and go away!

… Of special note is James Carville, who had a televised nervous breakdown of such impressive intensity that no one thought to remember that he is just a super-wealthy member of the political elite who has precisely nothing at stake and nothing to offer in terms of a solution. “We’re dying down here,” shrieked Carville, who is definitely not dying in any material way as a result of the oil spill. But lots of people in the media watched that and thought it was super-deep and meaningful that someone could be a completely irrational git in front of some teevee cameras.

Greg Sargent, who has also been staking out the press’s demands that Obama should solve the oil spill crisis by joining Dashboard Confessional or something, notes a bizarre caption on CNN’s website that reads:

President Obama has dealt with the Gulf Coast oil spill tragedy with his signature cool, calm and collected approach, but now, the public is asking him to get mad.

But is the “public” really “asking” Obama “to get mad?” Well, people like David Brooks say they are, in columns for the New York Times. Pareene’s simple response to that is to note, accurately, that “The joke is that when David Brooks talks, without any supporting evidence, about what the ‘public’ and ‘the country’ wants, he is actually referring only to the response of the professional media elite.”

Is it possible to know what actual humans think about the notion that the oil spill needs to be confronted with lots of feelings? Well, on yesterday’s edition of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, the matter of presidential emotion came up and many of these actual humans called in to respond. This is perhaps the closest we can come to knowing what the public thinks about the matter, so let’s do that!

You can watch the whole show online, here.  Here are what the callers said:

We begin with two callers that thought that emotion was a silly concern:

Democratic caller: I think that President Obama he’s a thinking man. He gets the facts, he gets the figures, he gets the information. And I do not think that we can ask something out of a President that he is not. I just think that he wants the facts. It seems like — could they have gotten on it faster? Could he have gone down there more often? Absolutely.Independent caller: I think that Mr. Obama needs to use more common sense rather than emotion.

Then there was a Republican caller that wouldn’t even engage the question when prompted to do so:

HOST: What do you think this morning?REPUBLICAN CALLER: About what?

HOST: About President Obama showing more emotion?

REPUBLICAN CALLER: I believe that he does not have the expertise of a Senator over time, right? The profession of that, you know what I am saying? You have to have judgment and forgiveness of certain things. Accidents do happen. But he needs to be more get on their backs to help to get that clean up done.

This was followed by a string of callers who rejected the question:

Democratic caller: I think that he is doing all that he can but he needs to talk more about it. But I want to make another point about how the media keeps putting an onus on him.Democratic caller: I really think that he is showing the right amount of emotion. He has been there several times to take a look. The man has been handed the back of a snake. He has enough on his platter to deal with and he is still a family man.

Independent caller: I think he can’t win for losing, because not only does he have a lot of important things to deal with…wars and the economy and health care and everything else that is major, but now this major oil spill has come up and I don’t think we want someone that’s overly emotional.

Democratic caller: [sarcastically] President Obama can’t do nothing! Either he is not showing enough emotion or maybe he using the teleprompter too much! I don’t know what he could do to satisfy C-SPAN and the other part of the media.

Then, at last, success! Three people in a row who thought the president needed to emote more:

Independent caller: I think, for one thing, showing more emotion? Yes, he could. I am very cerebral myself, I’m very intelligent, but I also have emotions, and Obama has not done a good job of that. With him doing fund-raising for certain people in California, I thought that was very bad. But what else can we do with this point? We need to come together.Republican caller: In my opinion he has not shown much emotion…I think that if he had acted quicker this would not have been such a big story if he had gotten the Navy involved…he should invest more emotion, showing the american people that he has a lot invested in this.

Independent caller: My feelings are that President Obama has not shown enough outrage.

It didn’t last long!

Democratic caller: I have a problem with the question of the morning. What is showing more emotion? What is he supposed to actually do, emotionally?…I keep hearing from a tea bagger point of view, less government, less government, less government. That’s my first point, I don’t need to say anything more about that. My second point is should the President show more emotion when it comes to soldiers being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? Should the American people show more emotion when a homeless person dies on the street and can’t have a place to live? Should the American people show more emotion When a child cannot get health care? Should they show more emotion when it comes to their fellow citizens? Let’s stop and evaluate the actual question. Is he supposed to jump up and down and shout and scream? Or is he supposed to make sure that the people who are in charge are doing what they’re supposed to be doing?

That caller was cautioned by the host about getting too incivil and using the term “teabagger.” The irony of admonishing someone for getting too emotional in a conversation about whether or not someone should show more emotion, is priceless. YOU CAN’T FIGHT IN THE WAR ROOM!

Back to people scoffing at the notion that the president needs to be more emotional:

Independent caller: Should Obama show more emotion? What more can he do other than be realistic?
Democratic caller:I cannot understand why the public is now wanting our President to express greater emotion. I think he has made it very clear they he is very disappointed, along with everyone else in the country…But I cannot see that he could do anything more than he has done.

Republican caller: It is really sad that Americans have turned to this position of wanting the President to show more emotion.

Independent caller: I just think that this is such a ridiculous question. Should the President show more emotion? What would it do if he stood on the beach with tears streaming down his eyes? Would it plug the hole? I don’t think so.

Democratic caller: I do not think that the President should be showing more emotion. I think that he should always remain calm, despite the urgency of any situation…He is supposed to reassure the country. However, I do not think he is being a good leader right now.

Republican caller: I think Obama has not shown good leadership in the oil crisis. And everybody is fighting amongst themselves about it and they need to start worrying about solving the problem.

Democratic caller: I do not even accept the statement or the question. We all know that this President, one of his strong leadership points is that he is calm under dire circumstances. To me that is what you need. This is just another media made-up story…to make the President look bad.

Finally, someone took up the emo cause:

Independent caller: I think that the President Obama can show more emotion. When he was in Louisiana on the beach picking up tarballs, I wanted to see him in the marshes where the oil is, not just picking up tarballs. I think that his speech was to curt…It seemed too businesslike and scripted. I wanted him to throw the script away and just speak from the heart.

I’m not even sure how to categorize the next caller, so I’ll just consider this a yes for “Obama needs to show more emotion, and less socialism!”

Republican caller: Nothing has gotten better under President Obama because he does not want it to get better. He uses every crisis to expand government and government doesn’t cause solutions, it causes more problems. People depend on something that will always let them down. And he is a talker, a professional lawyer…If he had any emotion at all it was about having another one of his vacations interrupted.

The final caller put an appropriate capper on the conversation.

Democratic caller: The question today about the President having emotion…I think the question is out of line with what is going on. Do you want someone running around screaming, “Fire, fire?” I have watched you for the last hour, I don’t you’ve not moved from the right or the left. Should you have more emotion about what is going on? What is the question? What kind of emotion do you want him to have?

So there you have it. Many people thought the question was extremely stupid. A few demonstrated the ability to criticize the president on the basis of his rational decisions. But the bottom line is this: of 21 callers who even bothered to acknowledge the question, only five of them — if I’m being extremely charitable — thought it was important that the president show a wider and more intense display of emotions.

So, boom. This is a settled matter. Does the public want President Obama to show more emotions over the oil spill? No. They want the oil spill fixed.

As I’ve said, I don’t think Obama’s problem is lack of emotion or even an inability to express emotion.  I just think his whole team’s messaging is so dreadful it mucks up everything they try to do (see Is progressive messaging a “massive botch”?).  It’s not that he’s failing to emote — he’s simply been failing to lead.
Indeed, anger is short-term tactic that is ultimately a losing  political strategy because  it simply can’t be sustained.  It goes nowhere.  The Proverb doesn’t say, Where there is no anger, the people perish — it says, Where there is no vision, the people perish.
But on the media’s effort to make Obama’s virtue into a vice for the sake of ratings, well, all I can say is I’m mad as hell and … and … I guess there’s not much I can do about it.
KING: I know you appear so calm. Are you angry at BP?
You know, I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions. It’s imperiling not just a handful of people. This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years… [T]he one thing that I think is important to underscore is that I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people. But that’s not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem and ultimately this isn’t about me and how angry I am.

14 Responses to Do Americans want Obama to show more “emotion” — or is that just the lust of the drama-driven media?

  1. lizardo says:

    Too funny. Gosh darn, now why didn’t I waste time watching that and similar rubbish?

  2. Oliver James says:

    So many people are so self-absorbed they require that public figures validate their own feelings by mirroring them. It’s really stupid.

    I am personally very depressed by the oil spill, and have longstanding anger at the oil companies. I have absolutely no need for Obama or anyone to publicly express anger. I just want them to make the right choices, and in this case I think the President is doing that.

  3. Chris Winter says:

    Emotion? No; we’ve got the McLaughlin Group for that. (Or at least we did have. They’ve gotten mellower lately.)


    Seriously, though, there are all kinds of emotion. I recall a speech by Al Gore about climate change, I think it was in his bearded phase, when he didn’t show much more emotion than controlled disdain. That was a very effective speech; it eviscerated the opposition. Then again, Gore had a period of declaring with fervor, “I will fight for you!” That, IMO, was not effective. It seemed strained.

    What I’m getting at is, it depends on the man. Gore, at his best, is cerebral. Obama, just as intelligent, comes across best when he is cool and collected. Neither one should try to be a rabble-rouser.

  4. Wit's End says:


    it is imperative to understand the powers that be.

    Didn’t Abby Hoffman have something or other to say about that?

  5. Gemini says:

    Let’s all hope that Joe’s brown-nosing of the Obama administration lands him another job with the Executive Branch.

  6. Lore says:

    While Obama could rhetorically crack the whip a bit harder, I don’t think we want our Presidents mimicking the old rhyme, “When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles scream and shout!”

  7. catman306 says:

    Lady Gaga parody Big Oilmance (worth a listen, lyrics included)!

  8. Anonymous says:

    No thinking person wants Obama to scream and shout. Coolness under pressure is a good thing.

    But, it would be reassuring to “feel” that Obama has the cajones to “look” like he’s in charge.

    That’s what people want.

  9. JHawk says:

    That CSPAN sustained my faith in the American people, well played everyone.

  10. Chris Dudley says:

    I think that it is too bad that President Obama canceled his trip to Australia and Indonesia. There are things he could learn about oil spill response from both countries. It has taken some time to confirm that Timor Sea Spill fouled Indonesian beaches for example. There are lessons to be learned there.

  11. Lewis W. says:

    What is illogical about keeping your head when everybody about you is losing theirs? Isn’t keeping your head one of the fundamental qualifications for being in charge?

    I have noted a tendency for men who have been encouraged to ‘share their feelings’ to quickly find themselves mocked for doing so.

    And even if you prefer emotional Jedi over logical Vulcans, “Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they.”

  12. Miss_Moss says:

    Yes, the ‘Pubs would love for Obama to have, excuse the expression, a blowout. Then they would accuse him of being overemotional, uncivil, or irrational.

    It’s the strategy of the bully: Goad and abuse someone intolerably, then, when the victim attempts any sort of self-defense, accuse them of “assault.”

    I want BP out of business, I want the US (and the rest of the world) on a renewable-energy footing, I want attention to whatever climate mitigations we can devise. I don’t care whether the president “shows emotion” as he pursues these objectives.

  13. There are not just two alternatives:

    Detached cool and overwrought emotion

    While I appreciate the President’s efforts to be rational, he is erring on the side of being cold and detached, especially when Americans need to get fired up to actually take action on both oil depletion/pollution and global warming. Of course, I am assuming here that the President wants this, and it is not yet clear that he really does want people to get involved..

    The work of neuroscientist/neurologist Antonio Damasio has pointed out the key role of emotion in “rational” behavior. “Descartes Error” is a good place to start.

  14. Dallas says:

    Funny video, who knew Glen Beck had a predecessor.