Beneath Barack Obama’s well-cultivated image as a supernaturally cool, calm and collected president lies a very different reality: an irritable, hyper-sensitive and bitter man who’s quick to attack those who question him or his agenda.
Last Wednesday Obama flew to Phoenix, Arizona, and was met on the airport tarmac by Governor Jan Brewer. The president and governor had a heated exchange over immigration and her new book, Scorpions for Breakfast, which Brewer later said Obama was “a little disturbed by.”
Parts of Brewer’s book are critical of Obama, and according to Brewer, he told her, “that he didn’t feel that I had treated him cordially.” Obama then quickly walked away upset. Brewer later described Obama as “somewhat thin-skinned and a little tense to say the least.”
Gov. Brewer isn’t the first Republican to note Obama’s hypersensitivity to those who dare disagree with him. Last year, Majority Leader Eric Cantor called Obama “overly sensitive to someone differing with him on policy grounds.”
The same assessment was made by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts after he and other Senate Republicans had a combative meeting with the president last year. “He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans,” Roberts said. “He’s pretty thin-skinned.”
During the Gulf oil spill, Obama traveled to Louisiana and met with Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal later said that Obama seemed unconcerned about the spill but expressed frustration with the level of criticism he was receiving, ordering Jindal and another Louisiana officeholder not to go on T.V. to criticize him.
Even mild criticism can apparently bring about harsh retribution. It is rumored that Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal from his post as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in part because a McChrystal aide said the general found Obama “not engaged” in a meeting with him.
An expert blame shifter, Obama still regularly places responsibility for our dismal economy on George W. Bush. Last week, in response to Newt Gingrich’s label of “food stamp president,” Obama said incorrectly that eligibility for the federal poverty program increased more under Bush than under his own administration.
In contrast to Bush, who rarely responded to the media’s hateful and libelous campaign against him, Obama is hypersensitive to the scant criticism he receives from the media.
When a Texas reporter was granted a seven-minute interview and asked tough questions about his falling popularity, Obama scolded him. “Let me finish my answers the next time we do an interview, all right?” he said angrily.
“I’ve got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration,” Obama once complained, referring to Fox News. The White House then embarked on a campaign to convince other media outlets to ignore Fox News, the one station not in the tank for Obama.
There is even a website devoted to monitoring criticism of the president. Attackwatch.com was recently set up “to challenge negative statements about the president made by Republican presidential candidates and conservatives.”
Of course, Obama isn’t above taking cheap shots at his opponents. He does so often and often in venues in which they cannot respond, such as his attack on the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision in the 2010 State of the Union address.
On the 2008 campaign trail, Obama disparaged middle Americans, who he said cling bitterly to guns, religion and xenophobia. But it is Obama who clings most bitterly – to the idea that his socialist agenda should be enacted unquestioningly by Republicans and the public.
Obama’s sees himself as a tough, battle-hardened commander in chief. “I think that by the time you get here, you have to have had a pretty thick skin. If you didn’t, then you probably wouldn’t have gotten here,” Obama told Bill O’Reilly last year.
But until recently, Obama was unaccustomed to hearing real criticism. He grew up in liberal cities and university towns, insulated from those who might have challenged his beliefs and values.
Once he became a U.S. Senator, there was too often little interest in testing or scrutinizing him. Before becoming president, Obama’s four years in the national spotlight were defined by fawning adulation from most of the liberal media and silence from most Republicans.
As the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, Obama got the kid gloves treatment from John McCain, who prohibited his campaign from scrutinizing Obama’s background or character.
McCain lost in part because he was seen as a hot head who couldn’t be trusted with a spiraling economy and volatile international situation, a view the Obama campaign promoted. Meanwhile, Obama benefited from being portrayed as the cool, calm steady hand who could lead the country through tough times.
This year, many Republican consultants are advising Republicans to focus only on Obama’s policies and to ignore his character and personal life. Obama is personally popular, they say, and any attempts to talk about anything but policy would backfire. But part of the reason why Obama remains personally popular is that Republicans refuse to expose his character flaws.
The idea of Obama as an above-the-fray figure who can unite the country has been shattered by three years of a president who seems more passionate about the opinions of his critics than about governing the country.