Bill Clinton was famous for “feeling our pain” when he was President, but in the end that whole mantra ended up being something of a running joke — so much so that today it’s still prime fodder for Clinton impersonators and comedians.
The downside of that whole feeling our pain thing is that ever since Clinton was President, we as a country have had an odd expectation that our Commander-in-Chief should wear his feelings on his sleeve and we get a little testy and hurt if he doesn’t. We have a need to see those Presidential emotions so we can relate in a 21st Century Dr. Phil kind of way. It’s like when we get annoyed at our husbands for not understanding why we get all teary when the other playground moms give us the “Oh, she didn’t go out of the house looking like that!” sideways glance that ruins our day at least until it’s cocktail hour — we want them to empathize, but there are really few men who could or, at least, who would admit it.
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised in our “be in touch with your feelings all the time” society that many are criticizing President Obama for not emoting more about the catastrophe on the Gulf Coast. Yet, I am. Have we gotten to a point where that’s really the political bottom line — we just care whether our politicians can feel our pain and reflect it back to us on 24/7 cable news?
Do I want President Obama to be paying attention and coming up with a real plan to stop this oil spill disaster before the Gulf Coast can never recover? Yes. Do I want him to stop relying on the BP/Halliburton/Transocean unholy trinity to come up with a real plan? Hell yes. Do I need the President pack his “angry eyes” like Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story 2 when he speaks about this mess? Only if that’s what it takes to get it cleaned up, but not because I’m worried that Obama is more Vulcan than human.
I don’t recall anyone dressing down George W. Bush for not being more of an INFP when it came to Hurricane Katrina or the Iraq War. I certainly don’t think anyone wanted Richard Nixon to get all weepy over inflation or that we expected either Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush spend any time trying to channel their feminine sides by hanging out with their local drum circles.
So why Obama? Is it a Democrat thing or just a post-Bill Clinton phenomenon?
Whether one cares about Obama’s abilities to share his inner feelings, he does need to come up with a plan people can relate to that says he’s grasped the severity of the BP/Gulf Coast situation — either he has to take some people to the woodshed and get things to change pretty quickly now that hurricane season is upon us or he needs to shed his Mr. Practical skin and call in Oprah for some tips about how to connect with his audience, especially now that she’s done with the Duchess of York. Because without pretty immediate results or some serious empathy, he’s in big trouble.
Imagine if Clinton had been all “I keep my feelings to myself thank you very much’” about any of the issues that came up in his presidency — especially Monica Lewinsky. Clinton survived because he connected on a certain gut level with people — he convinced them that his less-than-perfect human qualities were exactly why he should be trust with the nation’s welfare — because he was one of us and knew how to navigate the rough times.
But we’re not getting that with Obama. The country would be fine with a president who’s not a Venus & Mars kind of guy if he was taking the oil industry/coal industry/financial industry/etc., to task and we were seeing things turn around and people were being held truly responsible for the damage being caused in so many areas.
Whether I need to see the softer side of the President isn’t the thing — it’s how the majority of the country is feeling. And for better or worse, it’s starting to feel like Obama needs to take some of his feelings off the shelf and connect with the people he needs this November and again in 2012. Because for better or worse, when Obama brought the inspirational speeches out in his 2008 campaign, he created an expectation — that when the country needed inspiration again, he’d be able to provide it. And it’s hard to inspire anyone with logic, calmness and linear thinking. If that were the case, Spock would have been the commander of the Starship Enterprise, not James T. Kirk.
Or maybe it’s just time for Michelle to start packing him those “angry eyes.”