David Rothkopf

Long hot summer blues

Everybody is concerned that Barack Obama is not emotional enough. MSNBC has seemingly devoted weeks of programming to try to get the president to be outraged about the oil spill in the Gulf. Liberal commentators are suggesting that the key for managing the crisis is that the president should show his feelings — weep like ...

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Everybody is concerned that Barack Obama is not emotional enough. MSNBC has seemingly devoted weeks of programming to try to get the president to be outraged about the oil spill in the Gulf. Liberal commentators are suggesting that the key for managing the crisis is that the president should show his feelings — weep like Representative Melancon, rail like James Carville, mist up like a CNN reporter covering virtually any natural disaster.

But that’s not what worries me. First of all, I don’t think it will help a blessed thing to have Obama chew the scenery like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (or frankly, like Al Pacino in any movie — personally, I think he thinks scenery chewing is a great way to add fiber to his diet). It’s not who he is and American voters are smart enough to know that. What they want is not histrionics. They want action.

That said, I do have a worry. I think Obama is not unemotional. I think he is catatonic. I think he may be shell shocked. Let’s look at the past week or two. Of course, we start with the Gulf. We have the Israeli flotilla fiasco. We have the thousandth U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan. We have the Sestak mess and the Romanoff sequel. We have a Blagoevich trial starting in Illinois that is sure to feature several of the president’s closest advisors prominently. We have essentially no job growth other than a bunch of folks the government has hired temporarily to work on the census. We have the stock market teetering. We have Europe wracked by new worries about bank derivative exposure and countries like Hungary. We have Iran’s nuclear program buying week after week and little in the way of a global response. Now we have reports that Jim Webb’s favorite country, Myanmar, is working on going nuclear. Who’s helping them? The North Koreans who are on the verge of a shooting war with the South Koreans. The Japanese Prime Minister tries to do a solid for the U.S. and what happens to him? Booted out of office. Mexican political bigshots are disappearing off the streets. America is on the opposite side of the immigration issue from the President. It’s hot out. The worst hurricane season in years is being predicted. Umpires can’t even call baseball plays correctly. Larry King was flirting with Lady Gaga.

Emotional? We should be thankful the President of the United States is not curled up in a ball on the floor of the Oval Office weeping. That he can still get dressed in the morning, that he is still willing to show up for work, is a sign of great fortitude.

It’s easy to carp. It’s easy to give advice. It’s not easy to sit where the buck stops. It’s not an easy time to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And perhaps the hysteria engines in the U.S. media ought to think about that when they are barking nonsensical emotional advice at the White House in a set up that is very reminiscent of the tactics the U.S. used to get Manuel Noriega out of his hideaway in Panama. (For those of you who don’t remember, that involved large, loud speakers…)

Frankly, what the president is doing, staying cool and trying to handle items one at a time is precisely what we need right now. My sense is that as bad as things are in the world, they are only going to get worse this summer. Markets will teeter. Wars will spark. The weather will not cooperate. It’s going to be a long hot one… and that is precisely why we ought to be delighted we have a cool customer in the White House.

Everybody is concerned that Barack Obama is not emotional enough. MSNBC has seemingly devoted weeks of programming to try to get the president to be outraged about the oil spill in the Gulf. Liberal commentators are suggesting that the key for managing the crisis is that the president should show his feelings — weep like Representative Melancon, rail like James Carville, mist up like a CNN reporter covering virtually any natural disaster.

But that’s not what worries me. First of all, I don’t think it will help a blessed thing to have Obama chew the scenery like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (or frankly, like Al Pacino in any movie — personally, I think he thinks scenery chewing is a great way to add fiber to his diet). It’s not who he is and American voters are smart enough to know that. What they want is not histrionics. They want action.

That said, I do have a worry. I think Obama is not unemotional. I think he is catatonic. I think he may be shell shocked. Let’s look at the past week or two. Of course, we start with the Gulf. We have the Israeli flotilla fiasco. We have the thousandth U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan. We have the Sestak mess and the Romanoff sequel. We have a Blagoevich trial starting in Illinois that is sure to feature several of the president’s closest advisors prominently. We have essentially no job growth other than a bunch of folks the government has hired temporarily to work on the census. We have the stock market teetering. We have Europe wracked by new worries about bank derivative exposure and countries like Hungary. We have Iran’s nuclear program buying week after week and little in the way of a global response. Now we have reports that Jim Webb’s favorite country, Myanmar, is working on going nuclear. Who’s helping them? The North Koreans who are on the verge of a shooting war with the South Koreans. The Japanese Prime Minister tries to do a solid for the U.S. and what happens to him? Booted out of office. Mexican political bigshots are disappearing off the streets. America is on the opposite side of the immigration issue from the President. It’s hot out. The worst hurricane season in years is being predicted. Umpires can’t even call baseball plays correctly. Larry King was flirting with Lady Gaga.

Emotional? We should be thankful the President of the United States is not curled up in a ball on the floor of the Oval Office weeping. That he can still get dressed in the morning, that he is still willing to show up for work, is a sign of great fortitude.

It’s easy to carp. It’s easy to give advice. It’s not easy to sit where the buck stops. It’s not an easy time to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And perhaps the hysteria engines in the U.S. media ought to think about that when they are barking nonsensical emotional advice at the White House in a set up that is very reminiscent of the tactics the U.S. used to get Manuel Noriega out of his hideaway in Panama. (For those of you who don’t remember, that involved large, loud speakers…)

Frankly, what the president is doing, staying cool and trying to handle items one at a time is precisely what we need right now. My sense is that as bad as things are in the world, they are only going to get worse this summer. Markets will teeter. Wars will spark. The weather will not cooperate. It’s going to be a long hot one… and that is precisely why we ought to be delighted we have a cool customer in the White House.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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