When I see articles spotlighting the President’s “arrogance,” I have to wonder two things: why is this relevant, and why is this something we care about, now, in this politician, but not in others? It takes a type of arrogance to run for office, but an extraordinary arrogance to run for President. Palin’s dismissive promise that she’ll run if there’s “no-one else” spotlights the question all presidential candidates must ask: am I the only individual capable of leading the free world?
Anyone who answers “yes” will necessarily be more “arrogant” than the common man; but this isn’t something we talk about in other candidates, or other politicians. Why?
I can identify two combining narratives, responsible for the label’s unfortunately common attachment to President Obama: the first is the “elitist” narrative, which the President has actually not lived up to. Playful boasting (“I’m Lebron, baby”) cannot be read for the truth of the matter asserted, and perhaps more importantly, is made in the common rhetoric, without “Harvard” flourishes (cf. “I’m Pompey Magnus, baby”).
The second relates to race. It’s hard to speak of the “arrogance” of a black man in high office without hearing “uppity.” This may be one of the times that the over-reference to race blinds us to an actual problem: talk about the President’s “arrogance” is a fairly explicit dog whistle to the racist right, but it’s something pundits can get away with, because we expect smart people, and liberals, to be arrogant.
The inescapable conclusion is that the myth of Obama’s “arrogance” is a tale built on his identity as a powerful, black, liberal, intelligent politician; not his acts. There’s nothing he can say or do to escape it. Clinton-style self-deprecation (“Bubba”) worked because it drew its essence from Clinton’s Arkansas roots. President Obama’s story of success from humble beginnings is a quintessentially American tale, but not the type we expect to hear from our leaders, and what we don’t understand, we essentialize.