Joshua Green1 wishes that President Obama would stop trying to get things done and instead take some time to feel our pain and soothe our fears:
Six years in, it’s clear that Obama’s presidency is largely about adhering to intellectual rigor—regardless of the public’s emotional needs.
By “intellectual rigor” Joshua Green means the following shameful behaviors:
Administration veterans describe Obama’s crisis-management process as akin to a high-level graduate seminar. “He responds in a very rational way, trying to gather facts, rely on the best expert advice, and mobilize the necessary resources,” says David Axelrod, a former White House senior adviser. On Ebola, Obama’s inner circle has included Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, and Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco. By all accounts, Obama treats a crisis as an intellectual inquiry and develops his response through an intensely rational process. As former CIA Director Leon Panetta said recently in a TV interview, “He approaches things like a law professor in presenting the logic of his position.”
I don’t know about you, but in my humble estimate a president who gathers facts, relies on the best expert advice, and mobilizes the necessary resources to deal with a problem is taking the right approach to the job. Resisting the various pressures of the moment and instead developing a “response through an intensely rational process” sounds like a good description of a leader—someone who stays calm while others around her or him are losing their heads.
But that’s not enough for Joshua Green or, apparently, the nervous and easily frightened American people:
Americans’ views of deadly viruses such as Ebola are shaped by Hollywood movies such as Outbreak and Contagion, and when the prospect of a global pandemic arises, we expect a Hollywood president to take charge. Obama’s Spock-like demeanor and hollow assurances about what experts are telling him feel incongruous.
Is it really the case that Americans have become unable to tell the difference between movies and reality? Is it really the case that we don’t want an actual president, we just want one who plays one on our screens? Maybe we should just hire an actor for the role? Oh, wait…we’ve tried that.
Joshua Green makes a brief concession to the facts:
It’s true that Obama’s task is made considerably more difficult by the antipathy that has marked the Republicans’ response to Ebola. Most seem more intent on stopping Democrats than on stopping the contagion. Their ads politicizing the virus have only added to the climate of fear. And their filibuster of Obama’s surgeon general nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has also silenced an authoritative voice on public health, for reasons as small-minded as those dictating the party’s line on Ebola: They’re carrying water for the National Rifle Association, which objects to classifying gun violence as a public-health issue.
Having momentarily acknowledged reality, Green resumes the blame-Obama-first game:
Even so, the failure is mostly Obama’s. It didn’t require extraordinary foresight to anticipate the public freakout once the infection spread beyond Duncan. Obama, who’s better acquainted with Washington dysfunction than anybody, should have anticipated the partisan acrimony. The crisis required more of him than he seemed to recognize. But he was hampered by the same things that have plagued him all along: a liberal technocrat’s excess of faith in government’s ability to solve problems and an unwillingness or inability to demonstrate the forcefulness Americans expect of their president in an emergency.
“Forcefulness”: why didn’t Obama just invade Ebola? That’s what Reagan would have done.
Joshua Green’s belief in the childlike timorousness of the American people and in a president’s duty (and ability) to calm our night terrors would be touching if it weren’t simply insulting. In fact, the “public freakout” about Ebola has been largely a partisan creation fanned by a media always eager to turn scattered sparks into a major conflagration if it can. Mr. Green’s panicked scenario to the contrary notwithstanding, the vast majority of Americans have not freaked out about Ebola, or about ISIS, or about anything else; the vast majority of Americans get up every day and go about their business, and they expect their president to do the same.
Two presidencies ago, the media mocked Bill Clinton as the “Emoter in Chief" and insisted that a president needs to do more than “feel our pain”—a president needs to solve problems and get things done. So now we have a Chief Executive who focuses on solving problems and getting things done, and who responds thoughtfully and rationally to crises: and Joshua Green faults him for not being a national crying towel.
Joshua Green, you are today’s Worst Pundit in the World.