One of the criticisms we’ve heard often about President Obama is that he doesn’t do enough to show us that he feels our pain. That has been a staple of pundits like Maureen Dowd who wrote this about the President during the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010.
Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.
That critique resurfaced over his two terms, most notably during the Ebola scare and the attacks from ISIS. It tends to place more emphasis on reflecting America’s feelings than it does on the actual “signal part of his job” – taking action to address the problem.
I thought about that when I read the report from Greg Sargent on his interview with Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist, Joel Benenson, about how she plans to take on Donald Trump in the general election. This part is revealing:
“This isn’t about bluster. It’s about having real plans to get stuff done. When it comes to the economy, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with plans that have been vetted and will make a difference in people’s lives.”…
A certain species of fatalism has taken hold among our political classes in general and among Democrats in particular. The idea is that, because Trump has successfully broken so many of our rules…it must mean he has a chance at blowing apart the old rules in the general election, too.
And so, you often hear it suggested that Trump can’t be beaten on policy, since facts and policy positions no longer matter; that he is going to attack in “unconventional” ways, so there is more to be feared;…and that he has some kind of magical appeal that Democrats fail to reckon with at their own extreme peril.
That might be what this campaign comes down to – a contest between someone who is trying to reflect our feelings of anger and fear and someone who is determined to tackle the challenges we face as a country.
Beyond the importance of us getting that one right, it strikes me that these two candidates have completely flipped the script of who might be expected to take which side of that argument. When I was growing up, it was the Eisenhower Republicans who claimed the mantle of being the policy wonks to the Democrats who – even as rabble rousers – were the purveyors of peace and love. Whether you see that through the prism of Mommy and Daddy parties or the Myers/Briggs binary of “thinking vs feeling,” the roles between Republicans and Democrats have been completely reversed.
But the bigger cultural dynamic will come from having a woman be the thoughtful wonk and the man being all about the bluster of feelings. That is why I found the comedy of Samantha Bee to be so prophetic when she said this about the Republican presidential hopefuls as a group: “I don’t mean to sound sexist, but I think men are just too emotional to be president.”
That is a huge shift in our perception about the genders. It might help explain why so many voters still have trouble “getting” Hillary Clinton – she’s not playing the traditional woman role (just as Obama challenged the stereotypes about the angry black man). When she talks about breaking down barriers, one of the big ones she’s challenging is that a woman can be a thoughtful, intelligent leader.