Commentary Magazine


Our Delicate President

This paragraph appeared as an excerpt in the Washington Post and comes from the new book by Haynes Johnson and the outstanding political reporter Dan Balz, authors of The Battle for America 2008:

Axelrod also warned that Obama’s confessions of youthful drug use, described in his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” would be used against him. “This is more than an unpleasant inconvenience,” he wrote. “It goes to your willingness and ability to put up with something you have never experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don’t relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty. When the largely irrelevant Alan Keyes attacked you, you flinched,” he said of Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate opponent.

It’s quite revealing for Obama’s closest aide to admit that the president is so delicate when it comes to criticism, which he has been protected from for most of his life. It certainly helps explain President Obama’s prickliness when he is criticized, especially by Fox News, which he seems to obsess over.

No politician in my lifetime has received more worshipful press coverage than Barack Obama. Yet even such sugary coverage to date appears not to be enough. Obama’s dismissiveness of the press when it covers any mistakes he commits (such as his comments about Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley) is an indication of how much he cares. He has rabbit ears. That’s a bad quality in any politician, especially in a president. Criticism comes with the job — especially when your job performance is falling short of expectations.