Overrating Outrage in Obama’s Response to Paris Attacks

Nov 19, 2015 · 96 comments
Geoffrey (Washington, DC)
Sadly, we prefer shoot, ready, aim; as opposed to first thinking then acting. We live in a world desiring instant gratification. Hence the attraction to Trump, Cruz and others who insist on still another land invasion.

Essentially, we have a crop of conservative politicians would would invade Lithuania if it got them elected!
pkbormes (Brookline, MA)
I'll take cool over the Charge of the Light Brigade anytime.
Robert Luse (Houston, TX)
I for one took solace when after Ronald Reagan was caught secretly selling missiles to the Ayatollah in Iran and was forced to admit it, was still able to say that he feels in his heart that he didn't actually sell the missiles. That a President can be that delusional while rationalizing his criminal acts is comforting. That's leadership. Obama is just plain too honest and rational. Obama would never be able to fund the beginnings of the modern jihadis and call them freedom fighters like Reagan did. Obama just lacks Reagan's leadership.
Steve Austin (Hopkinsville KY)
The shame of our day is that the incredibly partisan & weak president gets angry at Americans worried about national security while championing the superiority of the Muslim deity with various statements of his going back years.

I used to think that this was unintentional, but it seems his every move and utterance now is aimed at making America less safe but more divided within.

I've never wished that we could have recall elections on presidents until this bird rolled into town.
John D. (Out West)
Very selective memory and criticism ...
Jennifer (New Jersey)
I'll bet he's a secret Muslim. They say that he wasn't even born here.
John Hinman (San Rafael, CA)
Mr. Austin, I don't think that you have been listening; rather you are parroting the islamophobic (and xenophobic) hate speech of Fox News and the Republican pretenders to the office. We have a long history in America of marginalizing minorities when there are troubles elsewhere in the world that potentially threaten us at home. The Japanese internment camps of WWII, the hysteria that German spies would get into the US if we admitted Jews trying to escape from Hitler's killing machine. You can even go back to the Irish in the 19th century fleeing starvation created by British oppression and destruction of the agricultural base of Ireland. Obama is measured in tone and thoughtful in policy. That is the President that I want and that I voted for. If you want to add hate speech to this discussion I suggest that you head over to the WSJ where almost every post is a hate-filled vent against the President.
Padraig Murchadha (Lionville, Pennsylvania)
Nice to see Obama counterpunch for a change. He has always worried about being accused of being an "angry black man." I guess he figures he has nothing to lose now, and he has a target-rich environment in the GOP crew running for President.

But don't think he's counterpunching defensively or without serious purpose. The WaPo White House correpondent analyzed Obama's presser remarks with keen insight: http://wpo.st/LN3q0
Pachuvia (New York)
Obama is cool and people pay attention when he speaks. He came to the top with that outstanding ability to explain his position marvelously. Republicans who love Trump know the difference but deeply disappointed with Bush and others. They can't find an equally able person person yet. Sad, Obama has to leave but Democrats are strong with few nice people.
Steve Austin (Hopkinsville KY)
Yes, Barack dresses and speaks well, but every time he spoke about the P.P.A.C.A. he lied, and knew he was lying with all those lines about people keeping their insurance and keeping their doctor.

Unless it's a move that I've paid to watch, don't ever lie to me because I'll judge you for it. It's up to you fans of his to decide if all the lying is ''cool,'' too.
Sharon Conway (Syracuse, N.Y.)
Obama is not in charge of what the insurance companies do.
Brian (Oakland, CA)
Many wise comments here. Obama stands firm in a blow-hard storm that's amplified by stupefied media. I'm thankful of his measured approach, but not reassured about what comes after. Republican candidates posture for right-wing nuts, but on revealing their thoughts it's little better: Bush thinks Lebanon is part of an axis of evil. Even Hillary agrees (with Republicans and the media): ISIS is our great Satanic enemy. Obama (and U.S. intelligence) understand its a mafia exploiting circumstances. If Iraq was a European figment, Syria was stitched up, and Assad's family ripped it. Remember, Assad said peaceful protesters were terrorists. He needs ISIS: they scare Russia, Iran, now the West, into supporting him. Obama seems the only U.S. leader who learns.
Vin Heffernan (Perth West Australia)
Perhaps people don't understand what poise and dignity are anymore! Would they rather have a bumbling George Bush instead of an articulate orator, who explains things very clearly? I certainly hope not! I think Obama stands firm surrounded by lynch mob storms that increasingly cheapen politics, and lower the bar on what it takes to be a leader. The media throw any concept of what it takes to be a statesman into a thick fog of blind mans buff where whoever shouts the loudest is right, and rarely does anyone get to see what's really going on.
Kirk (MT)
Regardless of what this President says or does, he is not going to be acceptable to the warmongering dullards who marched us in the middle of Iraq under 43 and conveniently forget the outcome now by calling for more American lives to be lost in another Mideast adventure. To be watched live on Fox TV.
President Obama will never be credited with drastically reducing American war casualties, reducing the deficit, creating jobs and many other positives that so contrast to the disastrous years 2000-2008.
Number23 (New York)
It's such a useless exercise to parse criticism of this president, as most of it isn't based on objective or rational grounds. It's just bias. Had he emoted like a hyped-up Shakespearean actor he would have been criticized by the same sources as not being stoic enough or giving signals to the enemy that they were getting under his skin. It's a pattern well established by partisans and perfected by Fox News, who invert the principles of journalism by starting with an assumption. I'm happy that the president checks his emotions, with exceptions, and measures his words before they come out of his mouth. I can still remember cringing at W's repeated use of "crusade" shortly after 9/11 in a televised address. I couldn't imagine a worse choice of words given the situation.
President Joe Q Public (Laramie, Wyoming)
Showing emotion is why Trump is boffo! We love a good show! The bankrupted global military empire needs an entertaining head!
jrgolden (Memphis,TN)
Emotions will get people killed. Someone has to be the adult.
Michael S (San Diego, CA)
I'd like to take credit for this comment! Well said and en pointe.
Ed (Old Field, NY)
People often over-intellectualize what is their simple disagreement with the President by assigning some hidden motivation to him, whether or not he is aware of it. You might not have been knocked out cold, but your “unconscious” is dictating your thoughts and actions.
Jim R. (California)
I'm not a huge fan of the President, and think his policies in Iraq and Syria have been terrible. But he's not emotive, and never really was even on the campaign trail. Let's just leave it at that. I'd rather have him being himself than watch him conjure up some emotive response that isn't, at its core, who and what he is. John Boehner cries. President Obama is detached, and restrained. Those personality traits neither make them good or bad; it just helps make them who they are.
John (Napa, Ca)
If any of the current candidates were president today, we would have thousands of Americans fighting on the ground in differnt countries, at a cost of America's blood and treasure and eroding our standing as a leader in the world. I personally think Obama's ore measured approach serves America very well. Can you imagine ISIS leaders (or Putin for that mater) sitting back and laughing while President Trump bloviates about bombing our enemies to smithereens.
straightshooter (California)
Trump will be blowing our enemies to smithereens......
Mark (Philly)
Our enemies have been getting blown to smithereens...


We have a president to take action without beating his chest about it. Or rather, our strategy is to just kill them and not really talk about it all that much. It's a legit strategy in this case.
Steve (AR)
I don't care about shows of emotion, but his overall response to the ISIS problem has resembled a traffic cop on Lithium, he's just going through the motions as events whistle by him and his administration.

As for "Kill the Bastards" not destroying ISIS, well, guess what that is the only solution to terrorism, as they don't want to negotiate, they want their enemies dead, and we are their enemies whether you signed up for that role or not is irrelevant.

So kill more of them or do so more efficiently or in a way that scares the crap out of everyone that might follow and you might have a chance. However, unless they are dead or have a genuine reason to fear you they will keep coming.
baka yaro (brooklyn)
Traffic cop on lithium? I love these ridiculous analogies people come up with. What about the 5000+ bombs and hundreds of drone strikes? Obama has authorized far more drone strikes than his predecessor (which will come back to haunt the US one day). Unfortunately, bombs and bullets can't kill an idea. Sadly, it's attitudes like the one you espouse that have facilitated the rise of ISIS. How can you scare the crap out of people who will happily die for their cause? Until cooler minds prevail, this problem will only get worse.
mj (<br/>)
You might want to look to your dully elected Republican Congress who has thwarted his calls for funding for more than two years while they have voted again and again to repeal the ACA and cut their working days to two a week.
rosa (ca)
"Expressing simple outrage without follow-up is often counter-productive."

Therein lies the Republican Problem.
The "Party of NO!", the "Party of Stupid", has made it a fetish to offer no solutions, or, in the few times it has, the lack of details have been one-word slogans: BOMB! DEPORT! KILL! (Why are Cruz and Huckabee still in the running?)

They have offered no solutions to jobs, ACA, inequality, or what to do with those pesky women who insist their bodies are their own. (Sorry, but bearing a rapists or a relatives seed to term hasn't been an option since 6,000 BCE.)

Right. "Kill the bastards": That really clicks in my higher brain function of reasoning and evaluation of details. (Not.)

Republicans: Please just shut up until you have something constructive to add to the discussion.
Thank you.
David Henry (Walden)
I'll take Obama's measured responses over Bush's jubilant fight-suited "mission accomplished" gloating anytime. America knows how that turned out.
Randy L. (Arizona)
"... these are highly skilled performers ..."

That sums up tis president very well.

It's a performance, nothing more, a play, a show, catering to The Party.
Hopeoverexperience (Edinburgh)
The world should be thankful that Barrack Obama is in the White House rather than any of the preening, self important frauds who are parading in the GOP race. Not one of them could do the job. The President is clearly a highly intelligent and thoughtful man and I would think largely true to himself. However he has an impossible task in relation to ISIS and the Middle East generally. It is impossible to undo all of the past policy mistakes of his predecessors (who were ably abetted by our British politicians) in a few short years. If you had any sense you would amend the 22nd Amendment to allow the President to run for a third time notwithstanding the quality of the current contenders for the Democratic nomination when compared the to the GOP's (which for your country internationally are a huge embarrassment).
cm (sc)
I totally agree. Our president is brilliant, thoughtful and measured in his approach while navigating through all the insanity going on in the world today. I truly believe that history will bear him out as one of our greatest presidents of all time. Thank you Mr. President for all you do for our country. It is a thankless job.
mj (<br/>)
How dare you sir! We all know because the Right tells us constantly, that Mr. Obama is an embarrassment and the rest of the world finds him weak and ineffectual. We must replace him with a Putin-like figure to get respect.

Thank you. You've made a point I've tried mightily to make many times with your thoughtful comments. It's nice to hear someone outside the US tell us how they feel about Mr. Obama.
Richard (Lexington, Kentucky)
Emotions, like Snickers bars, fuel false solutions. They may satisfy in the very short term, but do so in a way that masks a dreadful reality. Candy provides no nutrition. Emotional response devoid of reason worsens the problem. It leads to such nonsensical decisions as the war in Iraq, when nearly all of the 9/11 attackers and its mastermind were from Saudi Arabia. As with any endeavor, fact-based knowledge is key. That should always be the first step in crafting effective policy.
Arnold Feldman, MD (Bala Cynwyd)
Unfortunately, Obama not only speaks softly, he acts softy, if at all, when it comes to dealing with terrorists.
Robo (NYC)
It is a very great mistake to equate softness with weakness.

There are very few terrorists in the Middle East who aren't constantly checking the skies for a Predator drone aiming a missile at them. Obama is killing a lot of them, without risking our troops and running up the debt in a land war.
Will Weston (Chicago, IL)
I get disgusted with the false emotional outrage of politicians
who, in spite of having a microphone, raise shout above shout
to pretend they are emotional and therefore correct. Mostly
they do it because if they toned their argument down to a sensible
volume of delivery, it would be exposed as irrational and
probably harmful.
James (Flagstaff)
Whatever President Obama´s personal and political strengths and weaknesses, this particular crisis is one that calls for carefully measured words and carefully thought out deeds. We are dealing with a skillful and ruthless enemy that seeks provocation and overreaction or wrong-headed reaction. They are confident that they will profit from more violence and chaos, and they achieve their fundamental objectives every time they succeed in making us more fearful, less open, less free, and more belligerent. He's saying and doing what needs to be done, despite all the baying and nonsense around him. It's a shame that a country as great and strong as ours is populated by so many who are small-minded and fearful, and so easily sucked into giving our enemies just what they are looking for.
fast&amp;furious (the new world)
I love President Obama for his wisdom, reserve and profound dignity. He has certainly needed it while being pursued by the racist, deranged right these last 7 years.

I don't care about 'optics.' I care that he's a wise leader.

He also has a world-class sense of humor. How often do we see that in a president?

I'm just sorry I can't vote for him again. I recognize we'll have no finer president in my lifetime.
Steve Sailer (America)
Obama got pretty outraged over Jeb's mild suggestion that maybe more of the Syrian refugee slots should be reserved for Christians threatened with slaughter by Muslims.
William J. Keith (Macomb, Illinois)
Maybe that's because we shouldn't be favoring them over Muslims threatened with slaughter by Muslims.

You know, since we're America and don't have a state religion.
rozfromoz (NY &amp; HI)
President Obama's speeches have not only left us (me & my friends & family) in awe at his deep understanding of a situation, but moved to tears at his beautiful and measured rhetoric.
David (Monticello, NY)
And THAT is the whole problem with Obama. Yes, he makes great speeches. That was good enough to win two elections. It is NOT good enough to govern. I'll take a President who gives so-so speeches but actually DOES something.
Phoebe (Ex Californian)
And out of the Republican candidates running for president, who would that be ?
Bismarck (North Dakota)
As a leader of a department at a Fortune 500 company, I learned the hard way that emotion at work is counterproductive. Same for the President, it sends a signal that can be misinterpreted in the worst way. As a leader, you have no room for error and you can't emote, you have to be calm, rational and thoughtful. Engaging in the routine bashing that takes place at the "worker bee" level diminishes one's authority and gravitas. Obama has the right tone, bellicosity is most of the time inappropriate. Especially now.....
JMJackson (Rockville, MD)
Is it any wonder that Americans can't tell the difference between reality and fiction when we prefer stupid, cinematic emotional overreaction to actual, you know, thinking? Rather than listen to the content, we look at faces and acting skills. People who still think Reagan was a great president should go to the movies more often and get their need for a comforting, scatterbrained grampa satisfied by Hollywood rather than Washington.
VS (Boise)
Pretty sure that President Obama showed plenty of emotions after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. And even his critics would call those emotions genuine, but the do-nothing Congress did exactly that - nothing.

As President Clinton said in the 2012 elections, Obama is a person cool on outside and burning with emotions for America inside (or something to that effect).
Richard (Camarillo, California)
I think it a bit far-fetched to compare Pres. Obama to Lincoln. It's unfair to both parties; Obama is no Lincoln. He's had two swipes at the inaugural address and, swelling volumes of verbiage later, his vaunted reputation for eloquence notwithstanding, he (in collaboration with his small army of writing hacks) have produced nothing which anyone will ever confuse with Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. That's no specific knock on him; few mortals will ever write a speech that's a tenth so good.

What we have about Lincoln in terms of character is a man who enjoyed people, who enjoyed joking and cutting up in sometimes coarse ways. Nothing could be further from the sanctimony and self-righteousness of which Pres. Obama fairly reeks.
Janhoi McCallum (Toronto, Canada)
I agree with one of the posters here that Obama is a lot like Lincoln in the way that he handles crises in two respects. (I)His personality (II) His critics.

In terms of personality one of the things Obama get's critique from the Left and Right on is his calm, cool demeanor and lack of outrage in response to a crisis. So Conservatives hate when Obama stays cool on foreign policy crises like a terrorist attack, Syrian Civil War, etc. Liberals hate when Obama stays cool on issues like Racial Injustice, Financial fraud, etc. Lincoln got the same heat in office in terms of maintaining a level head during the Civil War, which was perceived by his critics as being incompetence, lack of management, and an unwillingness to confront the crisis laid before him.

The second thing they share is criticism from both sides. Lincoln was critiqued by Southern Conservatives and hated for upending their traditions and way of life. He was also critiqued by Radical Republicans and Abolitionists for being too close to the establishment and making too many concessions to the South(even offering to preserve the Union with slavery intact). Obama is the same in the critiques he gets from both sides. Tea Party conservatives hate him for in their view changing America. Progressives are critical of him for not challenging enough the military industrial complex, corporate america, and the establishment.
W.A. Spitzer (Faywood)
"even offering to preserve the Union with slavery intact".....I think what Lincoln said was something like - If I could save the Union without ending slavery I would do so - . But I think people often misinterpret what he meant. Consider Lincoln's statement in the context of his famous house divided speech - A house divided against itself cannot stand .. I think it must become all one thing or all the other. I believe what Lincoln meant by the statement was that it was not possible to save the union unless slavery was ended.
elmueador (New York City)
While he can seem cocky very occasionally, I can't see how Obama gets under the Republican skin so well as to elicit rampant ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome). Clearly, he tried to be a good puppy with them in the beginning, he's got very centrist views and was/is a reasonably successful president (at the very least compared to his Republican predecessor). I sometimes feel we (i.e. Hillary in about 2018 for Ginsberg) should keep him on in an interminable function like Supreme Court justice (he'd bring a unique view on the constitution to the court), if only for the squealing of the right wing. That would often put a smile on my face.
MDCooks8 (West of the Hudson)
I really do not care if he shows any emotion of not but being at times over confident to the point of being "cocky" has bitten him once too often...

In addition, what really matters is when a President does not have the "courage" to speak the truth of a situation of such grave matters like terrorism....

So please never call a mass shooting or a beheading "workplace violence" again when it was evident that radical religious terrorism was the root cause behind the murders...
David (Monticello, NY)
Yes, I too think that is a big part of it. Downplaying the danger that ISIS posed from the beginning when his decision to withdraw our troops from Iraq is one of the big reasons that ISIS was able to flourish. I think it is this acting as though nothing is wrong that is so vexing about Obama. It's not that he has to puff himself up with emotion for us, but can he at least show something of his true feelings and acknowledge the reality of what is going on out there in the world. He seems to be living in denial, and that is dangerous when you are the President of the US.
Nancy Cadet (Fort Greene Brooklyn)
Intelligent people can see through posturing and empty rhetoric. Pres Obama is intelligent and genuine, so his peers will appreciate him and the info-tainment consumers will probably be dissatisfied . Frankly, there is not one GOP presidential candidate who can measure up to Obama on his worst days!
William Starr (Boston, Massachusetts)
"Intelligent people can see through posturing and empty rhetoric."

Unfortunately, "Intelligent people" seem to often be in short supply in our nation's voting booths. This is, after all, the nation that not only elected people like Reagan and W. Bush president but then went ahead and *re*elected them.
Jonathan (NYC)
If your policies are weak and ineffective, AND you speak like a pedantic college professor discussing the War of the Spanish Succession, then you are highly likely to be hung out to dry by your political opponents. That is a simple truth that most politicians understand.
baka yaro (brooklyn)
Hung out to dry by his political opponents? And I was under the impression that Obama beat his last two political opponents soundly. How silly of me.
Cathy (Hopewell Junction NY)
I personally prefer the pedantic college professor. It is such a relief to know that there is someone there in Washington who is smarter than I am and who constantly *thinking.*

The few in Congress whom I suspect of brainpower I also suspect of overwhelming ambition. So I will take a President who responds in a measured and thoughtful manner, over an actor trying to get my attention or a Palin-type blowhard mastering the art of verbal effluvia.
JEG (New York)
Brendan Nyhan might have been better off recalling George W. Bush's defiant, swaggering call to jihadists to "Bring it on." I'm sure it felt good to say, and there were many Americans that undoubtedly felt good to hear it, but at best was meaningless, and at worst, put American military personnel at further risk. Indeed, we recently learned more than a decade after the fact, that his own father George H.W. Bush, could not abide his son's swaggering, bellicose tone. So with that insight from a former president, perhaps we should take comfort that in certain cases a thoughtful leader may be better for the country than an emotive one.
timoty (Finland)
Bill Clinton was called Commander-in-Grief, but he was good at it.

President of a superpower should not get emotional in public, he'll lose all credibility and a president without credibility and authority is nothing.

Fascinating article.
RML (Washington D.C.)
President Obama gets the job done whereas the GoP with all its bluster, anger and political theater were asleep at the wheel when warned about a terrorist attack against the United States which killed close to 3000. The GoP leadership with all of their bluster got us into two long wars costing trillions. These wars solved nothing but created the problem we have with ISIS and other extremist groups. The GoP brought this nation to financial ruin in 2008. It took the quiet, strong, effective leadership of President Obama to clean the GoP mess up. I trust President Obama with the ISIS problem. He gets it done with out political theater. He plays the long game. I for one like it. Thanks President Obama for all you do.
David Cohen (Oakland CA)
RML has it right. We've very fortunate to have had Obama at the helm.
whatsnews (nyack,ny)
It should be astonishing to see the criticism(attacks) on President Obama's comments in the aftermath of France's 2nd tragic episode of terror in the past year. The President's comments were appropriate to the moment in substance and tone. At this time, it is President Hollande that should speak loudest and with the most force. Elsewhere in these comments, it has been written that President Hollande is a superior world leader. No disrespect to President Hollande, if the U.S. had been attacked as France has I shudder to think what would be happening here. Much of the commentary from Media and Politicians about President Obama's remarks and demeanor would make one think that Friday's attacks had come on American soil.
mannyv (portland, or)
Apologists aplenty for the Democrat in Chief
Makes the public wonder "where's the beef?"
Cathy (Hopewell Junction NY)
Between the ears of most of our Congress.
phyllis (daytona beach)
What a thought provoking good piece about Obama. When all those around him let their thoughts spill out and stain print, President Obama is like Cool Head Luke, able to show wisdom and courage in the flood lights of reality and crulity. Perhaps with some luck others around him will learn that the rant of the mouth does not give wisdom or comfort. What a hard job this President has had. I am sure he will one day write a series of books on his days in office. May he be in peace.
ceilidth (Boulder, CO)
Let's just admit that nothing Obama does will satisfy the media or the right. Remember that the Republican Party decided back in 2008 that they would fight every single thing Obama was elected to do--just because. Nothing has changed. Obama Derangement Syndrome is real.
ldharding1 (New York)
Is it time for President Obama to step down? If we had a Parliamentary system he'd have been gone long ago. There is a feeling of unease and despair in the country and many of us feel unsafe because this President doesn't seem to know how to do his job. Vice President Biden has the experience to lead us through these troubled times.
C Burroughs (washington)
And many folks I know are very thankful that he is the president and not one of the republican blowhards and what do you imagine Biden would be doing differently?
SD Rose (Sacramento)
Could you expand on how President Obama doesn't seem to know how to do his job during these troubled times? Also what has he done to make you feel unsafe?
Catherine (New York, NY)
You feel unsafe, uneasy, and are filled with despair? That doesn't sound like an issue for the President...maybe your doctor can help? I don't think the President, no matter who he or she may he, can hold us at night.
Patrick (Wisconsin)
Why do we want our leader to show anger? The Chinese and Japanese see displays of anger as a weakness, a loss of self-control, a defeat. Their leaders would be disgraced if they showed anger.

The kind of red-faced outrage that's so prevalent in our popular culture, politics and "news" media must surely look ridiculous to our global peers.
Kevin O'Brien (Park City, UT)
What if Ted Cruz were President?
S. Bliss (Albuquerque)
When I watch Obama respond to catastrophe, terrorism, massacres, all those situations requiring a steadying force, I think he's about right. He knows the right wing haters are looking for any hint of "angry, out of control black man." He won't let that happen. And it seems that his measured response is where he's comfortable.

And as many have said, no matter what his response, the right wing propaganda machine will say; too strong, too weak, too dumb, too divisive, too uninvolved, too angry, too reserved, etc. And their job is never to let up. So he gives them as little to shoot at as possible.
urbananchorite (Denver, CO)
I was a bit dumbstruck at the vehemence of (mostly) Republican negativity on the President's affect during his Antalya press conference. I saw his irritation as simply a reaction to the reporters who did not change their pre-prepared questions when called upon even though earlier-questioning reporters had asked virtually the same thing. I know they irritated me. I agree with the other commenters that Obama's critics find fault no matter what. I will never forget the election night video snippet of Mitch McConnell standing in a doorway swearing that Republicans intended to block anything the President wants to accomplish. I am amazed that snippet isn't played every night on both Fox News and on MSNBC, just so we can remember that agenda.
Scott Schilling (Houston)
Spare me. If President Obama began pounding the pulpit, beating his chest, raising his voice, or otherwise getting more histrionic, in a nanosecond the usual suspects would turn around and say he wasn't being "presidential." Same tired old games.

Personally, I like that he keeps his cool when others do not.
pkbormes (Brookline, MA)
And if President Obama were to cry, the Right would call him weak, even though it was OK for John Boehner (now history).
OnoraaJ (Wisconsin)
Have you seen the way he reacted to the group of governors saying they wouldn't take in any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees? Angry is an understatement. He clearly has emotions, and no one should criticize him for being professional, calm, and collected in times of crisis. Aren't these the exact qualities we look for in a leader?
William Turnier (Chapel Hill, NC)
Just do not worry and get used to the fact that whatever President Obama does he will be criticized. When his time in office has passed then ask yourself if racism had nothing to do with the barrage of criticism and opposition he faced day after day. Remember too that his worst critics have been fond of saying that we live in a post racial society because a black man was elected president (without their vote, of course).
ginchinchili (Madison, MS)
I find this President's reserve in this era of pumped up sensationalism refreshing. All the US public sees anymore are actors. As President I know Obama has to sometimes play it up for the camera, but he keeps it to a minimum, which I believe helps him reach the American public when he really needs to.

Besides, any time President Obama does show displays of emotion in public the Republicans criticize him for it. It was okay, and even praised, when George W. Bush commandeered a fighter jet, pilot, and aircraft carrier to make the absurd announcement that our mission in Iraq was accomplished. Yet Obama got lots of flack when he simply announced in a short televised clip that bin Laden had been killed. No theatrics. No elaborate stagecraft. No pyrotechnics. Just a simple deadpan announcement, and yet they still criticized him for it. Imagine what would have been said about Obama had he borrowed an aircraft carrier and had made his entrance from a fighter jet in splendid celebration of taking down bin Laden.

Obama's a good guy. More real than the vast majority of our politicians.
RKD (Park Slope, NY)
I admire his stoic demeanor. It shows the kind of inner strength that Cecile Richards displayed in front of the kangaroo court of Congress. Unfathomable to a volcano like me.
David Cohen (Oakland CA)
Excellent point.
Brian (California)
This commentary would a great piece of comedic writing if I didn't believe Mr. Nyhan was actually serious in his opinion. To their credit, Obama defenders are boundless. This piece is just another example. Mr. Nyhan, no one expects President Obama to channel his inner Bobby Knight by screaming and tossing chairs across the stage. However, we do expect him to express a level outrage that shows he is in touch with the feelings and emotions the vast majority of Americans are experiencing. He is the Commander in Chief of Rhetoric when it comes to attacking Republicans, or calling for gun control. And he doesn't hesitate to tell us the world is about to end because of climate change. But, in he last few days, he's shown more anger and contempt for those who are questioning the acceptance of foreign refugees than he's shown toward the cold-blooded killers who attacked France. That is an embarrassing fact. Since the attack, Francois Hollande has shown himself to be a far superior world leader. You keep worrying about defending your guy, though.
Arthur Silen (Davis California)
President Obama's demeanor appears to be very much like that of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, by all accounts, rarely showed deep emotion, and he, more than any other president knew the fear and heartbreak of having to send men to die in battle. Throughout his presidency, he knew he was fighting against long odds while at the same time trying to keep the Union's cause alive, even as his armies slowly gained the upper hand against bitterly resisting opponents.

Barack Obama appears to be of that mien, taking the long view, and looking towards a long-term strategy to defeat ISIS by altering the dynamic of Middle Eastern politics. That is a tall order, for which bluster and threats play no part. This will be a war in which persuasion, accommodation, and unending persistence will likely be the key to ultimate success. By contrast, the ego-driven triumphalism of the president's political opponents is likely to be very short-lived. None of them have the stomach for the kind of effort that will be required. If there is a dominant emotion that will be seen, most likely it will be grief, heartbreak, and sorrow.
cesplin (phx, az)
Comparing Obama to Lincoln is a joke. Lincoln was a smart patriotic American, Obama is clearly something else.
C Burroughs (washington)
Comparing Obama to Lincoln is exactly right.
Bennie (Dominican Republic)
Cesplin, maybe because he is black?
We are accountable (Atlanta)
I am so tired of this commentary that President Obama has polarized America. For all of the progress we have made on racial issues, we still have a long way to go in this country. The racial divide existed before Obama and will exist after Obama. Anger and arrogance has proven time and time again to be dangerous ingredients to sound decision making. Too many on the right want to look and sound tough but lack the internal fortitude to manage their anger and arrogance in order to make good decisions.
Thom McCann (New York)

"I am so tired of this commentary that President Obama has polarized America."


A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll released December 2014 found that “just 40 percent of Americans believe race relations in the U.S. are good — the lowest share registered by the poll since 1995.”

Obama has not only separated the White House.

He has separated the nation like no other president in history.

He has separated rich from poor.

Black from white and Hispanic.

Healthy from the sick.

He promised he would create a rainbow coalition of citizens who would work together building this nation.


Norma (Albuquerque, NM)
Tom McCann: He could probably get it done before he leaves the White House, if the repubs would agree to work with him despite the color of his skin instead of against him. If his presidency has shown the whole world anything about our country, it is that serious racism is very much alive and on display in the USA, especially in congress.
CAMeyer (Montclair, NJ)
It's your right to oppose, dislike, or even hate Obama, but your reaction to him is your choice and your responsibility. Don't blame him for being polarizing. You polarized yourself.

Similarly, re "race relations," many white Republicans disliked blacks before Obama came around, dislike them now, and will dislike them when Obama is gone from the White House. Isn't that their choice? Is this Obama's fault because he wasn't a credit to his race? Or has Obama failed because he hasn't kept "the blacks" in line and stopped them from complaining? I don't think he ever promised to do that.
Vanessa (<br/>)
Visibly expressing emotion would be seen as aggression by those who will find fault with anything President Obama does. It's not hard to imagine the outrage. There are large numbers of people who would rather change their position (presuming they actually had a position) than agree with anything the president expressed.
kanye36 (nueva york)
This is why I love this president, leave it to Ted Cruz and the other warmongers to "POP OFF" without having the facts and want to play to there base in an election season!, this is all politics!
Steven McCain (New York)
The president knows whatever he does the right is going to find something wrong with it. I beg to differ with the author in that Obama polarizes Americans along racial lines in truth it is Americans who polarize themselves along racial lines. I guess the phony outrage of a Huckabee or Cruz is what we want to see. A stopped clock is right at least two times a day. In the eyes of some a stopped clock has our president beat by 2 points.
AM (New Hampshire)
This country is quite shallow in the nuance and intellectual sophistication departments. When we have a leader who expresses himself in a nuanced and intellectually sophisticated method, we often react poorly.

Hopefully, President Obama will help us "grow up" a little bit, and be more reflective, in respect to matters of diplomacy, public discourse, and policy analysis.
mtrav (Asbury Park, NJ)
@AM don't hold your breath, Americans are too ignorant to "grow up".
"Maybe if we traded Obama to the terrorists for some of their prisoners he would see how other people feel that aren't living in Obama's delusional world."

Say wha'??
See also