Sunday, March 28, 2010

I, Obama

Have y’all noticed something peculiar – and a little off-putting – about Barack Obama’s rhetorical style as president? Have you noticed how he over-personalizes shit? Makes it all about him?

I’ve noticed this for a while, but felt compelled to blog about it tonight... after President Obama’s surprise visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Where he said this:

“I’ve made a promise to all of you who serve. I will never send you into harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary. I anguish in thinking about the sacrifices that so many of you make. That’s why I promise I will never send you out unless it is necessary.”

You anguish, Mr. President? You anguish? Dude, nobody wants to hear about your “anguish.” Least of all soldiers who gotta go out tomorrow and get shot at.

It’s your job to anguish about stuff like that, Mr. Obama. Being president is the hardest job in the world, and you wanted it. Now just do the job without congratulating yourself for having to do it... and without soliciting sympathy.

I found the complete text of Obama’s Afghanistan remarks online. Check this out:

I'll tell you right now the same thing that I said at West Point last December. If I thought for a minute that America’s vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.”

Did previous presidents talk this way? I don’t think so. Nor do I think a president should talk this way... constantly referring to himself personally, to his own feelings, to his own power.

Let’s keep an eye on this moving forward. I will surely blog about it again.


James C. Collier said...

David, Prof. Paul Kochman of the U. of Illinois wrote a book called 'Conflict in Styles' (1981) that illuminates Obama's application of Black style to personalize and connect, when a White style might present more command-and-control. For me, his personalizing has his mouth writing checks his politics can't cover, and he needs to quit.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Personalizing is all cool on the campaign trail, James. It's crucial, in fact.

But as president, in official speaking situations, you speak for the American people... not for yourself as an individual.

James C. Collier said...

Agreed. boundaries, boundaries. BTW, author of "Styles" is Thomas Kochman (not Paul).

Reviewer X said...

It's noticeable yes. My favorite example of this perplexing note is when he was campaigning for Coakley in MA and he was slamming Brown saying something like "I don't know if he's been working hard for you"

I don't know. The press seems to write off some of his habits as 'verbal ticks'

I just don't see this changing and I think he'll continue it.

...I'm counting the days till Treme.

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

President Obama is dam if he do,dam if he don't.
It's a shame that you fail to understand why personalizing is good for folks who are in harms way.
If you had bullets whizzing by your head 24/7 you would clammer for any gleam of hope and trust that you are doing the right thing.
Your arguement on this issue is petty in my opinion.
At least this President is trying to humanize this conflict,compared to our last President who made it clear,he simply didn't give a dam about your life.

maria said...

still, there's a sharp contrast. bush, an idiot, listened to the likes of cheney--he was a puppet who HAD no independent thoughts. that man was barely verbal. he couldn't articulate what he believed or why, without resorting to scary crap like "god" told him to go to war in iraq.

obama is in large measure reacting to republicans, who personally attack him whenever it suits them. many decisions are, in fact, his own.

neptune said...

UBM, I think as a writer (and as someone who hasn't appeared to be much of a fan of Obama anyway) you may be oversensitive and overreacting to this. Would you prefer that he use the royal "we"?

I would guess that he does this to emphasize that, "I am the captain of my ship" so to speak, at a time when his detractors want to paint him as the helpless tool of Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi, Timothy Geitner, etc. (which he may very well be but he's still the POTUS and the buck stops...).

I (hey, *I* do it too!) generally don't like to listen to Obama's speeches because they all sound like he's trying too hard to say something that will GO DOWN IN HISTORY as the greatest thing said by a president EVER! OMG!!!111!11

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Have to disagree with you, I feel the level of personalisation is an effort to show respect, not to dis-respect, it's all about personal taste I reckon but I like it, seems human to relate to the personal rather than generalised real-politik.

AlaninMD said...

He (Obama) is taking ownership in a way that no President since Reagan has had the nerve to do IMHO. Bush, while confrontational at home, was meek and almost always hand-picked the audience, including the military. While I agree that this puts him in an awkward position, I like the fact that he internalizes a decision to send young men and women to foreign lands to possibly die. Remember, it was Bush's lacked of intellectual curiosity or ownership that lead to the run up to Iraq. Obama can say I, because he truly made the decision to surge in Afghanistan.

Undercover Black Man said...

If you had bullets whizzing by your head 24/7 you would clammer for any gleam of hope and trust that you are doing the right thing.

And they're supposed to trust they're doing the right thing because Barack Obama "anguishes" over it?

WTF does his "anguish" have to do with anything? If it's the right thing to do, it's right for reasons that have nothing to do with feelings.

Get what I'm saying, Bigmac??

Plane Ideas said...

UBM is envious of Obama... UBM wants to be the chosen bi-racial,lol,lol

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

UCBM,please don't take a tone with me ,I just express my two cents about the issue you posted on,but in response I take it you have never been in harms way(military)if that's true then your postion is understandable.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ So enlighten me, Bigmac. How specifically is a soldier supposed to react to the Commander-in-Chief saying "I anguish in thinking about the sacrifices that so many of you make"? How does that help a soldier do his job?

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

UCBM why do I detect a little dislike of President Obama on your part.
Why does it seem that you will not accord him the same respect every President has enjoyed as CAC.
Maybe you are not a undercover blackman but a undercover teabagger looking for failure in the wrong place.

Plane Ideas said...


I think you are now finally understanding why I have zero respect for UBM aka One drop rule brother....When you have some time read UBM ignorant and contemptible comments about Haiti...

King Quaker said...

I and I see that UBM has bought into the hate being heaped on Barack.
"You" will always be the lesser.
Know yourself, black man.
Or openly join the republicans in their crusade.
You have lost a reader.

Kellybelle said...

Since I love both you and the president equally, I'm the most objective one here, lol. I think Obama says stuff like that to thwart criticism. He's trying to make sure people know he understands the impact of his decisions. Liberal types felt Bush didn't think about the effect of his policies on regular people.
Also, Bush was famous for shirking responsibility and refusing to admit his mistakes. Obama is just trying to get "the buck stops here" meme into folks heads. And he's Black so he has to shout it before anybody listens.

Undercover Black Man said...

Well, this has been an interesting exercise. Evidently a few of you believe there are only two types of people: those who believe President Obama can do no wrong... and tea-baggers.


I'm asking a simple question here. Who should give a damn about Barack Obama's "anguish"?

a.) the troops

b.) you and me

c.) his wife

The answer is c.

neptune said...

Evidently a few of you believe there are only two types of people: those who believe President Obama can do no wrong... and tea-baggers.

Well now, that's just hyperbolic. What happened? On the way back from Afghanistan did Air Force One take a detour to New Orleans so the president could take a piss in your cornflakes?

I'm not one of the "can do no wrong" types but I'm still having a hard time understanding the kind of animus you seem to have toward the guy. Did your candidate lose the election?

Anonymous said...

Well, this should give your buddy Podhoretz something to write about.

Undercover Black Man said...

Neptune... animus?

Nuh-uh, brah. Simple observation and critical thinking.

Even in an atmosphere where Obama is attacked daily by fringe-dwelling lunatics and corporate=sponsored character assassins, I reserve the right to criticize him.

Meanwhile, start to notice the way he talks. You'll see that I'm right.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those soliders the CAC inspired with his words. Its good to feel like someone in Washington is anguish about a decision to send us here and in Iraq. I believe this was a difficult decision for the CAC. I am proud to serve in this military even in difficult times. I have seen too many bro/sis in arms fall and it seemed that former administration didnt care at all but made decision without any regard to the troops. Thank God for a thinking man in the office. If you really want to know what it means to the troops here please come over and ask us for yourself and see what we go through from date to day. I have lost 4 friends here so I hope and pray that someone anguish over us being here but it seems that UBM. Really dont care what happens to us here but only focus on our leader who happens to show us he cares. I say to you UBM sign-up or shut up
Soldier in defense of CAC

neptune said...

start to notice the way he talks
I have noticed the way he talks and I still think you're overreacting. How does the way he chooses to express himself really affect your life? There are plenty of things to criticize him about that are way more significant than how he talks, IMO. To me, this would be in the same league as badmouthing him for talking "proper".

But I'm not trying to start a flame war here so, stand down. Freedom of speech, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah...

Anonymous said...

"I, feel your pain."

Remember that one? It could be argued that the line alone was a president-maker. Used as a catchphrase, it made people feel that Clinton was empatetic towards their plight and led him towards victory in the voting booth. So I personally am not offended at all by Obama's oft use of that pronoun to hammer his point.

In the case of Obama using it the other day, it shows that he sincerely cares about the troops and the people of the United States as a whole. And I, for one, am comforted by that thought after eight years of neglect with the Repubs. From what I saw, the troops seemed to not have a problem with it either, and embraced his presence there with enthusiasm. And yes, I do care about his anguish because I get a sense that he cares about and respects mine.

maria said...

a. and b.

pkd said...

I think you're being a little unfair. People want their leaders to understand & sympathize with their problems, or as in this case, as troops to better understand why they're there.

As for Obama's referring to himself, this is an old criticism that Language Log and others have dismissed.

Me? I don't like many of Obama's policies. (Referring to myself a total of three, no, four times.)

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear that you passed away were a good voice

Amy Alexander said...

David, we will keep it moving in your honor.

Thanks for some of the most meaningful "entertainment" produced in the past decade.


Dwane T. said...

Hey Brother, wandered over here and thought I leave a note.

Obama speaks as the president. He is the president of a country that has factions that are constantly at odds with each other with him in the middle. You said there are two factions of electorate, pro-Obama and teabaggers. But there three: those who think he's not doing enough no matter what Leftist, those who think he's doing too much no matter what teabaggers, and those in the middle who want to believe he's doing the right thing, but need to be given assurance of it. To that group, he tells what he is doing so that they are comfortable with his decisions. The American people didn't send troops to Iraq... Bush did, and then he explained why he did it. Every president does it. They have to.

As far as feeling anguish, if he didn't I wouldn't want him to be president. I live near Ft Bragg, and a few years ago I taught an eighth grade class. Many of the students (half of the girls) in my homeroom had fathers who were deployed at the same time. I had to teach about Ann Frank to those kids, who were afraid they would find out their father was dead when they got home each day. What did they feel? Anguish. What did I feel for them? Anguish. If the man who sends peoples' children, parents, siblings, mentors, etc. off to die for their country doesn't feel anguish in doing it, he isn't fit to lead. I hate war, and I want to know my president feels anguish over sending people to die.

I understand what your saying about too many I's, but the president doesn't represent the US, he leads it. He is the only president was have, and when he makes a decision, or when he makes a promise, he is the only person in the land that can carry it out from that position. We've go a lot of senators, way more congressmen, but only one president. When he speaks on behalf of the office of the presidency, Collectively... it's still "I".

Anonymous said...

RIP. You will be missed.

I do have to add that at first I thought this blog post was sarcasm. I'm pretty shocked a guy as smart as this made such a ridiculous criticism. (3 I's)

fishesalot said...

Cuzz, I always knew you were there, ..but now you've gone on. I'm bummed.

RIP Dave.


Anonymous said...

RIP. It's a shame that your final blog post was of one black man criticizing another black man for something as petty as the way the man speaks. Perhaps you should have chalked it up to education and compassion. My husband is in Iraq and we are proud of our CAC and grateful that he agonizes over our lives. As I am sure he agonizes over your death. Sorry you died so soon.

Anonymous said...

Another gifted writer gone....

It's okay for one black person to criticize another. I came to this blog from a reference in UBM's obituary. I never knew he was black until I read it - but I've known his work for years. Isn't that how it should be?

Every word of every sentence of every phrase Mr. Obabma utters is thought about, vetted, considered and vetoed. If he were in a lesser office, there could be question about whether he speaks for himself of the American people. When you're the most powerful person on the planet, there should be little doubt about whom you represent.

It is also certain that everything Mr. Obama does is amplified by race, and there is no doubt he can never be undercover about it.

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]Obama is just trying to get "the buck stops here" meme into folks heads. [/quote]


The point that you fail to mention is that Obama has his minions who make sure that HE suffers no consequences for taking the burden of blame upon his shoulder.

I assure you that if he had the left gunning after him for the same damned things that they stood against evil Bush upon - he too would be far less accepting of "My Bad".

RIP Brother Undercover Black Man.

Iggles said...

@ Anonymous:
RIP. It's a shame that your final blog post was of one black man criticizing another black man for something as petty as the way the man speaks.

I disagree. Words are powerful. It's not an accident that there no "chiefs" in europe. Nor are there any "jungles" or "huts". Think about it, and you'll see how words have been used to colonize. How they've been used to belittle. And how they been used to erase history.

Anyway, I believe all Americans have the right to criticize our president. Just because someone has a D next to their name doesn't mean those of us on the left can't hold them accountable.

Also, "all your skin folk ain't you're kin folk" -- case in point Justice Clarence Thomas. Let's not say Obama's race makes it wrong for other blacks to criticize him. The idea is absurd.

RIP Undercover Black Man. I never came to your blog before today. In reading your posts I appreciate that your shared your point of view. You will be missed.