Posted by: Joe Eds | May 27, 2010

Obama’s empathy problem

Obama, according to ALL who have observed him up close, is one cool customer.  And for much of this presidency that has paid off well. “He’s cool under fire” – one could say. “His calm demeanor is part of his leadership skills. He’s thinking out problems and not overreacting.”

But that’s not working now, in fact it’s having the opposite effect during this oil spill crisis – now the worst spill in US history. Fact is Obama’s calm demeanor makes it look like he doesn’t really care. He’s detached. And THAT’S bad. Howard Fineman posted a column today in reaction to the President’s press conference and he singles out Obama’s current political problem:

No one expects Obama to be a Clinton-like master of syrupy empathy. No one wants him to be a Bush-like bull-horned cheerleader. But voters expect him to convince them that he cares, that he’s focused, and that he can somehow put himself in the shoes of an average American.

It was difficult to watch him try, as he ended his press conference with what he evidently hoped would be a flourish of “I-feel-your-pain” emotion.

In short, even though Obama said he’s been involved with cleaning up the spill since day one, his demeanor makes it sound like someone spilled milk rather than millions of barrels of oil. And for the record, I don’ think this is “Obama’s Katrina.” The facts are way, way different. Rescuing stranded citizens after a storm is certainly a government-accountable task. Plugging a leak in the ground caused by a drill a mile beneath the surface of the ocean floor is a completely other ballpark. Though Fineman’s political reaction to Obama’s reaction to this is spot on.

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