President Obama and “Arrogance”

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.



  1. I was talking to a couple of EXTREMELY smart liberal friends of mine last week who expressed complete astonishment about the way the last two years have gone. They feel like there is not one significant achievement that really has Obama’s fingerprints on it. They feel like there is a complete leadership vaccum in the WH. One quote was, “I don’t think anyone really thought he would win in 2008. It was supposed to be a practice run for following Hillary in 2016.”

    To put it another way, I think it’s like the Peter Principle in business. Obama has risen to a level of incompetence and so he must detach to prevent people from realizing it. Detachment is often mistaken for arrogance. We’ve all had the boss who stays in his office all day with the door shut and won’t talk to anyone. He may seem snobish but the reality is that he is scrambling to find out how to do his job. I had a manager like that once and we discovered (by accident) that he was trying to teach himself how to use Excel for hours per day because he had never learned how.

  2. Haha what? None of this, whether armchair psychology or amateur political reporting, has any basis in reality. For one, your “liberal” friends don’t seem keyed in to the cottage industry of books written by or leaked from primary sources in the campaign, none of which portray Obama’s run as anything but a deadly serious effort. Hillary may’ve thought it was a practice run, but even she realized otherwise, didn’t she?

    As to real accomplishments, there are a lot of those. The incompetence enters in his ability to prevent the administration from suffering for them. Case in point, the health care & finreg bills are monumental efforts that no Democratic president has attempted, let alone succeeded at, in a lifetime. Where he’s failed is political messaging: making the public realize what’s been done, and convincing them to ignore the distortionary messaging on the other side.

    1. I’ve heard the comment repeatedly that Obama has done more (whether or not you like the things he’s done is a different question), in 2 years than most have done in 4.


      I mean, presidents don’t pass legislation, so you can probably try to twist things and say most presidents don’t do anything. Yet, I think it’s a bit much to rob his influence on congress. I mean, he’s pretty much set the agenda for what congress has been focusing on since the beginning.

      1. I’m just asking someone to show me a specific policy proposal from Obama and the law it turned into.


        Or more specifically

        I already know it will be impossible to argue this with you, but I guess I’ll bite. What’s your argument? That there have been changes to what he originally wanted? That some of them weren’t drafted specific policy proposals? or the things he campaigned on that were accomplished, were coincidentally passed by congress?

        1. Fair enough. I asked for specifics and you delivered. The President has pushed for certain legislation and gotten it through. Now with that admission, let me circle back to my original statement:

          “They feel like there is not one significant achievement that really has Obama’s fingerprints on it.”

          So I guess I should define ‘significant’. I would say that there have been two major legislated ‘successes’ under Obama from a liberal perspective. Stimulus and HCR. Of those two major things which have by far dominated political discourse since 2008, i don’t think there is a perception among the public that he played much of a role in either. I think that perception is fairly justified. Pelosi wrote the Stimulus. He punted on HCR too.

  3. I’m not suggesting the Obama team wasn’t trying to get him elected. I’m suggesting that some of the higher-level Democrats wanted to spend a lot more time developing him. He needed a LOT more practical experience. He’s never been in charge of anything concrete. never been involved in private industry. That experience is invaluable.

    As for the achievements, yeah, the entire Democratic party did a terrible job of selling them to the public (although my partisan retort is that selling a lemon is hard to begin with). My exact point about Obama though is that he played no real role in either of those efforts. I mean, seriously, please show me his policy contribution on either the Stimulus or HCR? I really don’t know what he did on either other than a few speeches.

    1. Policy contributions? How about getting the damn bills passed?

      Seriously, Mike, wake up!

      1. I don’t see how he got them passed. How many No votes did he change to Yes votes?

        1. The public summit. It did, in fact, reframe the debate regardless of how little actually got accomplished in the meeting itself. No, I can’t tell you which votes switched, but there was a narrative momentum shift and, if we’re going to accept the idea that the political climate can change politician’s votes, the summit did so.

  4. I don’t believe in the Peter Principle. But if I did, I’d say that “President of the United States”, yeah, that’d be a pretty acceptable “incompetence level” for most people.

    But I’m really confused here: How is it that Pres. Obama is both an incompetent leader who never accomplishes anything, while also being the nefarious presence who single-handedly will transform the United States into a socialist nightmare? Could we at least get the narratives straightened out here?

    PS: I never had a boss like that. But then again, I never worked in business. Maybe it’s that.

    1. I don’t attribute anything nefarious to the president. That would imply he was in control at some point.

      1. The alternative is that Congress somehow managed to pass HCR by themselves.

        I’m sure you’ll realize how ridiculous that proposition is if you think about it for a moment.

        1. So Obama bears responsibility for any legislation passed by the next Congress?

          1. I was trying to be funny. But obviously most legislation happens as a result of cooperation between the White House and Congress, not least because both need to agree. Checks and balances and all that.

            Oh, and HCR votes that were changed by Obama; Bart Stupak and his associates. Executive Order 13535. Pretty essential.

            1. I think that Stupak would argue he bent the President to his will, not the other way around.

              1. Move goalposts much? The nature of “compromise,” Mike, involves both sides getting something they want. Considering that Stupak got a meaningless fig leaf (and a retirement party) and Obama got ACA, I’d say Obama won.

                1. I’d hardly call it meaningless.

  5. I’m rather excited that my overarching thesis has gone unimpeached. Awesome.

    1. Your thesis was, “Obama really isn’t as arrogant as he seems.”

      Hardly much to brag about.

    2. Haha. Okay. I suppose that was one part.

    3. I think your first theory holds merit. The second one about race just doesn’t have much weight to support it. I know liberals want to believe that there’s a large racist wing on the Right but in my experience there is also a sizeable racist wing on the Left, so at the very least they cancel each other out.

%d bloggers like this: