Monday, April 20, 2009

Twaddle About Obama's Toughness

Lyndon Johnson's appraisal of Richard Nixon comes to mind in the growing debate about President Obama's toughness or lack thereof.

"Not much here," said LBJ, pointing at his head. "Even less here," touching his heart, then lowering a hand to below his belt: "But enough down there."

Now there is clucking on both the Right and Left about how much Obama has "down there."

"In some of his earliest skirmishes," the New York Times worries, "Mr. Obama eventually chose pragmatism over fisticuffs" and quotes a former Clinton official: “The thing we still don’t know about him is what he is willing to fight for. The thing I worry about is that he likes giving good speeches, he likes the adulation and he likes to make people happy. It’s hard to think of a place where he’s taken a really hard position.”

Say what? Ramming through a stimulus bill and budget that could make or break his presidency? Pushing auto makers to the brink of bankruptcy if they fail to shape up? Ordering use of force to rescue an American captain in the Indian Ocean (too much, by Rush Limbaugh's lights)? Making public the torture memos (risky, says Bush's CIA chief as those on the Left complain about his refusal to prosecute former agents)?

The critics are confusing bluster with toughness. Republican Sen. John Ensign huffs, "I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez" this weekend, but Obama shrugs off such posturing as politics that makes "no sense."

During the campaign, Maureen Dowd had asked Obama, "Do you worry that you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little. That’s how they judge how you’d be with Putin.”

“When I get into a tussle,” he answered, “I want it to be over something real, not something manufactured. If someone wants to get in an argument with me, let’s argue about how we’re going to fix the health care system or where we need to go on Iraq.”

Critics of all persuasions will have to learn to live with the style of a President who doesn't puff himself up as the Decider but actually goes about the hard work of making decisions by consensus if he can but unilaterally when he must.

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