The political mavens who argue that President Obama has to be more expressive are barking up the wrong tree. The real question is if Obama has deep feelings (other than for his family) — or is a cold fish. If his blood does not boil when Republicans and conservative Democrats, in the same breath, refuse to extend unemployment benefits but further cut taxes for business; when he finds out that mine owners and oil companies bribe regulators rather than protect the lives of their employees; if he cannot feel the pain unemployment still inflicts on us rather than deficits — then he should not fake it and suddenly turn demonstrative.
President Reagan got it right when he responded to a suggestion by image maker Michael Deaver. Deaver urged the president take off the jacket of his suit, swing it over his soldiers, and walk into a press conference much more informally then he had up to that point. Reagan responded saying that “this is not me,” that such moves would make him uncomfortable, and that voters would sense it — even if they could not verbalize their unease.
Ditto for Obama. If he suddenly started shedding tears, say, for the hundred of miles of beaches that are about to be devastated, he will not gain support but lose one of the few things that he has going for him — the people’s sense that this is a man who has integrity. Cool but honest; restrained but thoughtful.
All this holds only if Obama’s heart is as cold as he comes across. However, if deep in his chest there are buried some strong emotions, if he is holding back because he believes it is uncouth to voice one’s feeling; if he keeps these feelings under the hood because he long ago learned not to fall prey to them — then the time has come for some quick lessons by one of his many method-acting friends. Then he can learn to reach into his inner self and draw on these well-concealed emotions and air them. We (and he) would all be better for it.
In short, all those mavens — from the Washington Post’s David Broder to Maureen Dowd at the New York Times — who insist that Obama should wear his feelings on his sleeves, must first find out: does he have any? I believe such emotions are to be found — though the president has worked long and hard to convince us otherwise.
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