Presidential Acting And Acting Presidential

In an interview broadcast today President Obama said that he talks to experts about the Gulf Oil spill because they can help him decide “whose ass to kick.” Some people have reacted negatively to the President’s use of the word “ass”; others have wondered why the President apparently needs experts to direct him on whose ass should be kicked; still others are applauding a comment that they view as an appropriate responses to a disaster of catastrophic proportions.

I don’t think our President should cuss like a sailor, but I don’t mind a well-chosen epithet that arises naturally in appropriate circumstances.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Harry Truman talked about “kicking some ass” once or twice when he was President, and if he did I bet his comment had a real impact on the immediate listeners.  My reaction to President Obama’s statement, however, was that it seemed, well, scripted.   News articles indicate that the President’s supporters have been urging him to show more anger and emotion, and the comment about “ass to kick” seemed like a carefully considered response to that criticism as opposed to a genuine, spontaneous reflection of true anger.

Trial lawyers know better than to try to make witnesses act in ways that are fundamentally contrary to their nature.  Juries may not particularly like a person who comes across as cold, or as a hothead, but they really hate witnesses who seem totally coached and inauthentic.  Most people can sense when someone is acting.  The look in the eyes doesn’t match the words, or the inflection and the gestures are out of sync.  I got that sense when I saw the clip of President Obama’s comments today.  I hope I am wrong about that reaction, because we don’t need a President who worries about tailoring his actions and reactions to satisfy the instructions of his advisers rather than worrying about the huge real-world problems he needs to address.

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