The day after the stunning upset of the Democratic Party’s sinecure in Massachusetts, I tuned into CNBC to find President Obama making….another speech! I was thinking our young leader might be slightly chastened by the smack down delivered by the Bay State. Instead, there he was, lashing out at – drum roll – tax cheats! Specifically, federal contractors who are tax cheats. Somehow, this seemed odd; the administration’s signature health care program had just been trashed by voters electing Ted Kennedy’s successor, and the president is focused on crooked contractors?
Welcome to Obama’s makeover. It is clear that the president’s advisers have decided that he needs to get angry – and especially at Wall Street. They have taken the voters’ pulse, and found that it skips higher when their leader becomes outraged; the reserved demeanor that worked so well for Obama during the campaign is now considered a handicap, and is being shed like an out-of-fashion suit. Memo from Axlerod: no more Mr. Nice Guy.
This is a big mistake for three reasons:
1. Obama’s anger seems contrived, and in any case is not welcome.
2. The moment for jumping on the banks has passed. Soon the earnings season will be behind us, the subject of bonuses will not pop up for another year, and meanwhile Obama will be championing bank reforms that few will understand or care about.
3. Most important, Obama’s truculence risks merging him in voters’ minds with angry black men like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Nothing could be more damaging to the president’s broad-based support.
Obama’s temper tantrums over bankers, Rush Limbaugh, insurers, “fat cats,” polluters and so many others make him sound whiny and frustrated. Frustration is first cousin to impotence, and no one wants to think of their president as unable to get things done. He’s the leader of the free world, for heaven’s sake.
Moreover, Americans don’t want an angry president – they want a leader. Remember, Howard Dean was tossed overboard on the basis of one primal scream. His lone outburst was one too many for voters exhausted by the fractious Bush years. Today, they are searching through the rubble of Obama’s first year looking for the candidate who promised to bring “the country together as a healed and united nation.” If they want squabbling and drama, they should be dialing up “Real Housewives,” not C-SPAN. In the midst of this terrible and ongoing recession, Americans need reassurance, and soothing encouragement. They pine for Ronald Reagan, who was best loved for his eternal and contagious optimism, and whose favorability ratings are today higher than Obama’s, at 72%.
Further, the White House should consider that Obama has kept his distance from the most bellicose spokesmen for the African- American community, for good reason. Unlike Jesse Jackson, Obama has enjoyed broad support -- from whites as well as blacks. However, his slide in the polls in recent months has been especially pronounced among white voters, according to research conducted by the Pew Center. While more than 95% of African-Americans see Obama favorably, as has been the case since he was nominated, only 56% of whites now have a favorable opinion, down from76% when he was inaugurated.
Moreover, as the same study indicates, whites generally do not believe that blacks in America are subject to racial discrimination. Some 54% feel that the “country has done enough to give blacks equal rights with whites.” Those views clash with the victimization theme so often articulated by Sharpton, Jackson et al. An angry Jeremiah Wright threatened Obama’s image by association. Imagine the damage potential from imitation.
For those who doubt the fragility of Obama’s position, consider the furor unleashed by the president’s ill-judged comments about the Cambridge, Mass. police last July. Though admitting he was not up to speed on the details of the incident, Obama said the (white) police behaved stupidly in arresting his (black) friend Professor Gates on suspicion of breaking into his own home. The cliché of a black man assuming that a white cop would be racially biased suddenly pitched Obama into a community that he had carefully avoided. His approval ratings took an immediate hit, with the portion of the populace viewing him very unfavorably increasing from 34% to 40% within a week.
It is very tempting when the people want blood to turn into Dracula. However, Obama’s image-keepers will be doing the country and the president a great disservice if they allow him to become yet another angry black man.
Liz Peek is a financial columnist and frequent Fox Forum contributor. For more visit LizPeek.com.