Kick-ass context

KICK-ASS CONTEXT…. I’ve seen some mild criticism of President Obama this morning, from those wondering if the “whose ass to kick” line on the “Today” show was excessive bravado. Adam Serwer noted, for example, that Americans are “not going to be happier because the president has pulled out his Bruce Willis impression.”

That’s hardly an unreasonable take. The president doesn’t usually speak this way, and as Atrios explained, a “return to Bush-era fake bluster” would be annoying.

But it’s probably worth noting the context of the exchange, because the president’s choice of words was a direct reflection of the question. Here’s the Q&A:

LAUER: Critics are now talking about your style, which is the first time I’ve heard that in a long time. They’re saying here is a guy who likes to be known as cool and calm and collected, and this isn’t the time for cool, calm and collected. This is not the time to meet with experts and advisers; this is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and — I never thought I’d say this to a president — but kick some butt. And I don’t mean it to be funny.

OBAMA: No, and I understand. And here’s what — I’m going to push back hard on this. Because I think that this is a — just an idea that got in folks heads, and the media’s run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.

The “whose ass to kick” line wasn’t just some scripted attempt to sound tough. Lauer pushed the notion that the president shouldn’t meet with experts; he should “kick some butt.” Obama responded that he meets with people who know what they’re talking about so he’d know “whose ass to kick.”

In this context, the president really was just responding to the basis of the question, not trying to sound like an action hero with overwrought bravado.