Obama: Our first female president
If Bill Clinton was our first black president, as Toni Morrison once proclaimed, then Barack Obama may be our first woman president.
Phew. That was fun. Now, if you’ll just keep those hatchets holstered and hear me out.
No, I’m not calling Obama a girlie president. But . . . he may be suffering a rhetorical-testosterone deficit when it comes to dealing with crises, with which he has been richly endowed.
It isn’t that he isn’t “cowboy” enough, as others have suggested. Aren’t we done with that? It is that his approach is feminine in a normative sense. That is, we perceive and appraise him according to cultural expectations, and he’s not exactly causing anxiety in Alpha-maledom.
We’ve come a long way gender-wise. Not so long ago, women would be censured for speaking or writing in public. But cultural expectations are stickier and sludgier than oil. Our enlightened human selves may want to eliminate gender norms, but our lizard brains have a different agenda.
Women, inarguably, still are punished for failing to adhere to gender norms by acting “too masculine” or “not feminine enough.” In her fascinating study about “Hating Hillary,” Karlyn Kohrs Campbell details the ways our former first lady was chastised for the sin of talking like a lawyer and, by extension, “like a man.”
Obama is a chatterbox who makes Alan Alda look like Genghis Khan.
The BP oil crisis has offered a textbook case of how Obama’s rhetorical style has impeded his effectiveness. The president may not have had the ability to “plug the damn hole,” as he put it in one of his manlier outbursts. No one expected him to don his wetsuit and dive into the gulf, but he did have the authority to intervene immediately and he didn’t. Instead, he deferred to BP, weighing, considering, even delivering jokes to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner when he should have been on Air Force One to the Louisiana coast.
His lack of immediate, commanding action was perceived as a lack of leadership because, well, it was. When he finally addressed the nation on day 56 (!) of the crisis, Obama’s speech featured 13 percent passive-voice constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address this century, according to the Global Language Monitor, which tracks and analyzes language.
Granted, the century is young – and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Obama’s rhetoric would simmer next to George W. Bush’s boil. But passivity in a leader is not a reassuring posture.
I’d actually worry more about what he’s saying than how he’s saying it but this one was too good to pass up.
The passive-voice thing is interesting though, I associate it with trying to avoid responsibility as in “Mistakes were made”.