On Labor Day, President Obama injected some mirth into one of his speeches while attempting to explain away the annoying economy. Speaking before a crowd in Milwaukee, the president said: “Some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time … are not always happy with me. They talk about me like a dog.”
The president was smiling when he said that, and although some unfair press people reported it as a serious comment, it was obviously a jest.
But there is an important truth here. All presidents get hammered, and pretty much anyone who achieves power in America will be a victim of character assassination. That goes with the territory. The higher you rise in this country the more darts you’ll pull out of your skin. And if you are thin-skinned, as Obama may be, those darts can cut deep.
It is clear to me that the president is not used to criticism and bridles when some of it rolls in. Unlike President Bush, who didn’t really care what was said about him, Obama does pay attention to the bricks. His distaste for Fox News, my employer, is obvious. The president takes a lot of the scrutiny very personally. So did Bill Clinton.
Truthfully, I can feel Obama’s pain because it took me years to develop a psychological mechanism that would allow me to ignore the dishonest personal attacks that come my way. As a TV commentator, I am a big target, and I used to react angrily to the character assassins. Now I mostly ignore them.
Americans in general expect the powerful, rich and famous to suck it up and take the slings and arrows without whining. Life is tough, and when you have millions of dollars and everybody knows your name, you cannot expect tea and sympathy in the marketplace. I have learned, however, that most Americans are fair and make up their own minds about people. They know who the guttersnipes are and who the good people are.
There are those who do treat the president poorly. But, on balance, he has gotten a much softer ride from the press than any other president in my lifetime, with the exception of John Kennedy. And even though Obama is having trouble solving some vexing problems, most of the media are still rooting for him, sometimes openly. If he’s a dog, he’s Lassie.
Underneath it all, I believe Obama feels that his critics are unfair and unbalanced. He is a man of achievement who, before becoming president, had rarely experienced the wrath of negative public opinion. Now that wrath is a daily occurrence, and the president is having trouble processing it.
Maybe he should call a guy in Texas for advice.