Everybody's a critic when you're president. Some people don't like your politics. Others don't like your policies. Some don't like your personality. Then there are plenty who don't like any of the above. But few presidents have faced as much criticism as the current one has for one personality trait in particular: not being angry enough.
Since taking office, President Obama has endured seemingly endless criticism for what supporters and foes alike deem his inability to emote, or at least to emote enough for their liking. He received so much criticism for failing to appear angry enough, early enough following the Gulf Coast oil spill that an entire column was devoted to how many Washington pundits were angry with him for not being sufficiently angry.
Meanwhile cantankerous funnyman Bill Maher expressed disappointment that the president wasn't acting more "black" which apparently from his vantage point involves flashing a gun during disagreements. (I've never tried it but perhaps Bill's black friends and I are, well... different.)
But of course when you're president it's often a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. When he said that he was looking for "whose ass to kick" during an interview about the disaster some accused him of un-presidential like behavior.
With the jobs crisis escalating, so are the calls for President Obama to show some anger. Actor Morgan Freeman even weighed in saying recently, "What I wanted to tell him is to get pissed off, get fighting mad." As I noted on The Dylan Ratigan Show, what many of the president's critics fail to understand is there are limitations to how far anger will actually take you, particularly when you're black. The stereotype of the angry, dangerous black person is so embedded in popular culture, from the earliest days of Hollywood, to present-day reality TV, that it's a stereotype those of us in the public eye find ourselves fighting on a daily basis. Case in point: Days ago the Drudge Report sparked an outcry when it published a photo of First Lady Michelle Obama playing tennis. Let's just say it's clear that the goal in publishing the photo is not to make you think she's just enthusiastic about the U.S. Open.
By coincidence right around the time this photo appeared I happened to conduct an interview with Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, widow of tennis legend Arthur Ashe the first African-American man and American, period, to win the U.S. Open. (Click here to see a slideshow of the greatest black tennis players.) She mentioned that she has long seen similarities between President Obama and her late husband. One of the main similarities? Their temperaments. (Interestingly, Ashe considered the possibility of pursuing a post-tennis, political career.)
Mrs. Ashe shared that, "During the period of time Arthur won the U.S. Open in 1968 he was criticized for not being proactive in his militancy in the '60s, but what did he do? He let his talent and his racket speak for him." She added, that her husband was "Someone who came from the segregated South... into a sport that was not welcoming that went on to honor him because of his ability to be able to be non-confrontational, completely about conflict resolution and one of the kindest human beings you'd ever meet." Describing him as a man ultimately about "love and logic," she went on to note that because of that he was able to open doors for players like the Williams sisters and to become one of the most iconic and influential names in sports history. The main stadium of the U.S. Open bears his name. (He also left an indelible impact as one of the first high-profile athletes, along with Magic Johnson, to be diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS, which claimed his life in 1993. Click here to learn how you can support the foundation named in his honor.)
To Mrs. Ashe's point, anger certainly has its place, but as Serena Williams learned the hard way at the 2009 US Open, (and again this year) it's very rarely well received on the court, particularly if you're black. President Obama clearly knows that. So in the court, or rather arena of politics, he appears to be going the logic route. Who's to say if it will work in the long run, but let's at least give him the space to let his racket -- or rather his policy and his pen -- do the talking in the meantime.