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Obama's ass-kicking, in context

Obama's remark about wanting to "know whose ass to kick" is already several news cycles old, but it's worth noting the full context: Obama was answering a question specifically about whether he should be kicking more butt.

As Chuck Todd noted this morning, Obama's interviewer asked him whether this wasn't a time to "kick some butt" rather than be calm and collected. Obama replied:

"I'm gonna push back hard on this. Because I think that this is just an idea that got in folks' heads and the media's run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf.

"A month ago, I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially had the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick. Right? So, you know, this is not theater."

Note that last line -- Obama is specifically saying that his efforts are not theater. Yet his remarks are being widely discussed as just that -- as an effort to compensate for his failure to handle the theatrics of this properly.

As Steve Benen notes, Lauer's question shows that Obama's answer "wasn't just some scripted attempt to sound tough." That's true, but let's face it, Obama did up the anger quotient here by using the word "ass" when his interviewer used the far more innocuous term "butt." Obama, a gifted public communicator, was certainly aware of this.

Look: There's no percentage in playing the anger game in any way. Obama seems to have wanted to show he's angry about the constant chatter about his lack of anger. He underscored the point by hauling out the word "ass." But this is just getting him pilloried all over again.

Far better to completely refuse engagement with this line of criticism. There's no way to win this argument. If you show anger in order to rebut criticism that you're too calm and collected, critics will just say you're compensating for your previous lack of anger. And so on. This game is unwinnable.

By Greg Sargent  |  June 8, 2010; 2:36 PM ET
Categories:  2010 elections , Political media  
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Next: Harry Reid's battle plan against Sharron Angle: Paint her as whackjob


Who Will Stop The Spill. Every day I keep asking myself that question.

When BP started requesting suggestions from the public, as to how to stop the spill, it became abundantly clear that BP was admitting that they did not have the answers, and did not have much confidence in the attempts they were going to make.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 8, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry so much about what Obama said. I actually think that most Americans appreciated Obama talking about kickin' some ass.

However, what Americans REALLY CARE ABOUT is stopping the leak, the clean up, accountability of BP, and making sure all those affected will be compensated.

If Obama does those things then that is what people care about.

Posted by: maritza1 | June 8, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Humorous. NOT.

Early on (like within a couple of days after the explosion), there was a conversation on Morning Joe, and Mika raised the lack of coverage from the media. She pointedly mentioned that during Katrina, the media was wall-to-wall coverage. And she wondered aloud if they were missing the story.

She had a point.

Instead the focus has been on the BS.

Getting to be typical.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 8, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I actually just saw the whole clip and talk about a tempest in a tea pot. If you watch it there's nothing to suggest that he is playing for the media. It not like he got up and slammed a desk or stomped his feet. It basically just went with the flow of the conversation. In fact Matt Lauer sounded so weird saying butt instead of arse. I don't know many grown men who wouldn't have substituted arse for but in their response in the same situation. But you know the media has to have it's narrative.

Posted by: sgwhiteinfla | June 8, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Steve Benen also chimes in on "kick-ass context":

Posted by: jzap | June 8, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

why the hell are you so stuck on automatic regarding Obama emotional state. This is getting to be ridiculous. I don't think Obama needs to satisfy yours or mine emotional needs. He just need to get the damn job done.

Posted by: crattliff | June 8, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Also it came to me earlier today. The media has focused so much on President Obamas emotions that they have barely if at all covered the GOP blocking the lifting of the liability cap. I'd be willing to bet more ppl would care about whether BP will get away with not having to pay for this oil spill because the GOP did their bidding than there are that care about the President using a cuss word. But where is THAT coverage?

Posted by: sgwhiteinfla | June 8, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

crattliff, I think I've been pretty clear in dismissing the notion that Obama's emotional state is significant, both in this post and elsewhere...

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 8, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Hilarious. The headline on HuffPost right now is:

"NEEDY MEDIA...Watch Pundits Pine For An Emotional Presidency "

Ain't that the truth.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 8, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with you Greg.

I, for one, am GLAD he said it.

I DON'T want him showing anger just to appease the media.

But on the other hand, the guy is pissed off. He must be.

So I'm glad he gave himself a chance to verbally unleash on those on whom he can bring down the full weight of the Presidency.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | June 8, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Ethan -- I don't really care that he said it -- it's fine, can't hurt -- but the broader point is that this is a game he'll never win....

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 8, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Belatedly saying he is angry, and explaining that he talks to experts to point him toward which behinds he should kick, just does not sound authentic.

It sound more like the movie scene in Stir Crazy, where Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder end up in prison, and start putting up a false bravado front; saying out loud; We Bad, We Bad.

Actions speak louder than words. Stop the leak, and launch a massive sustained clean up drive, and economic recovery program for the region.

Shut down all offshore oil operations, until all those platforms can be inspected and retro fitted, with redundant shut down systems that are proven to work.

You can not talk about weaning us off of oil, while refusing to ever take away the tit.

Shut down all off shore oil extraction now, and force the nation to start eating more solid food.

Actions speak louder than words. I do not want to hear We Bad, and We Kick Ass. I want the spill stopped, and the clean up taken care of fully, and the people of the region treated to a economic recovery Marshall plan.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 8, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

"but the broader point is that this is a game he'll never win...."

Amen, Greg. You're right. The media would rather focus on the soap opera. Sad.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 8, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

On Morning Joe they noted that Drudge's headline was "Obama Goes Street" or somesuch. And it quickly dawned on all of them, oh, right, the black man can't get angry.

Posted by: KathleenHusseininMaine | June 8, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Quoting Bilgeman:
" Maybe Meme-master Slave Sargent can change the "Report Abuse" linkie to read:

"Howdy Bilgeman!"

so that msslavemollymoonbat can more easily flail away in her attempts at having my copy be placed on my Permanent Record at Moonbat Geheime Polizei Headquarters.

Everyone needs a hobby, and I guess mollymoonbat has me.
She's a "Jihad of One"."


"Where's little missmollyslavemoonbat to snivel about ad hominem attacks here?

No matter, manifestly,she is of little consequence."

This added to the earlier ones I highlighted where I am called a cud chewer, cowlike, and a moonbat mare, among other things. The other commenters here seem to be fine with this schoolyard taunting. I read and comment on other blogs without incident.

Sticks and stones my a$$. I only want to read and learn and sometimes comment, and instead the attacks are relentless and for no reason. This is it -- I am outta here.

Greg, maybe someday your blog will abide by its own posted rules about personal attacks. Until then, my sticking around to be insulted is pointless.

Posted by: msmollyg | June 8, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I do not like it when Right Wingers blame the media, and I do not like it now, when Progressives are also blaming the media.

This White House should be up to the job of framing the issues, and capturing the daily news cycles, on an ongoing basis.

They should be creating the headlines, instead of letting the likes of Matt Lauer do so.

What every happened to: Matt; that is trivial stuff, so I am not going to respond to it; the important thing that I want the American people to know is......, and then spell out some strong steps that he is taking.

Do that every day. Frame the debate. Capture the news cycle. Give the media the fodder that you want them to digest, instead of the other way around.

Can anyone on the White House staff play this game?

Posted by: Liam-still | June 8, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

There's no pleasing some folks (YOU). Job offers non-story: get out in front, respond, yadda yadda. Lack of "anger" story, don't engage; it's a loser. What's a mutha to do?

Posted by: joeff | June 8, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Another edition of MSM fail. In the same interview Pres Obama was asked if he speaks directly to BP CEO Hayward. Paraphrasing he said no because he didnt want to hear spin and that in his experience CEOs just tell you what you want to hear so he just focuses on getting stuff done.

Just a little whlie ago some idjut on MSNBC said he was now "worried" about this because it meant Obama is getting second hand info. I swear man these people had to have ridden the short bus to school!

Posted by: sgwhiteinfla | June 8, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Why didn't Obama just use his super breath to blow the water away from the rig and then use his heat vision to fuse the leak? Hell, he could have done that WEEKS ago!

Posted by: Virginia7 | June 8, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

News Item: 08 June 2010 --
Obama's learning 'whose ass to kick' in oil mess

"Oil Slick President"
Bush stumbled on words.
Obama stumbles on Worlds.

Without his knowledge while he mired
only one bureaucrat was fired.
President Barak...
was not.

Only empty words are spoken
The buck has stopped with promise broken.
Falling on deaf BP ears.
No one hears.

Now BO looks for someone, as to kick...
Thousands out of work and getting sick.
As he is the President, I fear
He should look into the mirror.

The slickest image in his eyes
He refused to recognize.

-- GM in Minnesota. 08 June 2010

Posted by: GregMN | June 8, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I think he should be talking to Hayward, to ream him out, on a daily basis. In fact, I think President Obama should have chaired several televised panels by now, and made Hayward sit in on each of them. That would have been a great way to keep the public informed, and for alternative voices, from the gulf communities, and the environmental organizations, to publicly take those BP BS artists, to task.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 8, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Did you plug the ho yet, daddy?
No, but I fired her ass!
-- GM in Minnesota. 08 June 2010

Posted by: GregMN | June 8, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Bachmann got fired?

Posted by: Liam-still | June 8, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

" I knew a guy in old Dc
And he'd freak for you
All across the tube!!!

Cameras would roll
And bulbs would flash
When he'd do his thing
It always made news!

Angry Bojangles!
Angry Bojangles!
Angry Bojangles!

Rage, Rage Rage!"

The knob-slobbering MSM learns, alas, too late, that "cool" does not make for very good tee-vee.

Sorry, li'l chilluns, but old Unca Obama h'ain't gots no magic wand to wave n' make dat nasty ole awl/url/oy-yull go away!

Posted by: Bilgeman | June 8, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Obama did not sound angry to me. He was stating in a matter-of-fact way that he intends to kick some butt. That is his job. People in the government and at BP have to be fired. Some may need to arrested.

Years ago a president would not have expressed that thought so informally. He would have said: "I need to find who should be held accountable." But any president going back to Washington would surely have kicked butt in a situation like this.

It is not easy to determine who is at fault. Obama is being careful and studying the situation thoroughly. A less prudent person might lash out at the wrong people and make things worse.

Posted by: jedrothwell1 | June 8, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I think that Obama is trying to settle two irrational criticisms of the handling of the BP mess.

The first is the constant attempt to equate His not personally solving the problem in the very first days with Bush's hands off effort to deal with Katrina. It is originally pure Republican cynicism, but it has spread to critics on both sides who don't actually have to deal in specifics, just complain that nothing is being done. He also dealt with that, saying that whenever he asks about what could have been done that hasn't been done, he gets no answers, just generalized b.....s. And now in a considered answer he talks about specifics of his part in the program by answering a dreadful sounding question with a directly crude answer.

The media is doing a particularly lousy job of accounting for just what is being done, and so when politically motivated critics is that to permit them to say NOTHING is being done it is very hard to counter them with easily available facts, like the fact that the real think tank dealing directly with the blow out is a bunch of engineers in Houston, while the primary nexus of dealing with recovered animals is Fort Jackson, LA, and the over all environmental disaster mitigation work coordination isn't the responsibility of either of those loci. We can't easily follow who is working on what because that isn't front page coverage, but we can find out that Governer Perry doesn't like the EPA checking up on a possible miscreant running a refinery in Corpus Christi because Perry doesn't think it is any of the EPA's business.

Posted by: ceflynline | June 8, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse


"so he just focuses on getting stuff done."

Any idea what "stuff" that would be?

Posted by: ScottC3 | June 8, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

"I read and comment on other blogs without incident."

Does anyone here really believe that?

"I only want to read and learn and sometimes comment,"

Who's stopping her? Anyone? Has anyone seen ANY comment this herd animal has made that has NOT been about me?
I've seen a grand total of one, (1)....IIRC she TOTALLY AGREED with some other moonbat.
(I was underwhelmed, frankly).

The rest has been this whack little Anti-Bilge Jihad of hers.

"...and instead the attacks are relentless and for no reason. This is it -- I am outta here."

Awwww, I'm really going to MISS her!
If she leaves a forwarding address, I'll send her a new feedbag full of turnips for her birthday.

Y'know, it seems that some people just ain't constitutionally cut out to play on the internets.

Posted by: Bilgeman | June 8, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

All, check out Harry Reid's emerging battle plan against Sharron Angle:

...and to all you new commenters, welcome!

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 8, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

What nobody seems to have noticed is that in this statement Obama shows a VERY deep understanding of how to effectively use the power of the Presidency.

Unlike George Bush, who apparently thought his job began and ended with being the "decider," and that media management was more important than managing the people who actually got stuff done (people in the executive branch, his own cabinet members, foreign leaders, etc.), Obama displays a keen sense of how to be effective.

The job of a chief--president or CEO--is not just to make decisions, but also to make sure that things HAPPEN. A big part of that is holding people accountable. You can go into a room and scream at everybody, but anybody who's worked at a job with a boss who did this knows that's not terribly effective. But yelling at the right guys so they do their jobs right--and get everybody else to do their jobs right--that is good management.

This is much more effective than getting on TV and blowing a gasket. Seriously, if I'm a BP muckety muck, you think I care if the President is bloviating for the cameras? Whatever, man, he's clearly more interested in PR than in me. I'm going to just keep being incompetent.

But if the President calls me up and yells at me, or he calls up my boss 5 levels from me and yells at him, so he gets us all riled up...that's a very, very different story.

Posted by: theorajones1 | June 8, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Get the hell out of here, Greg! You just can't own-up to the fact you ran with a snippet rather than waiting for the entire interview to put this in context. He wasn't just sitting there and blurted out, "I want to kick some ass." He was asked why isn't he out there kicking butt and he responded using language that was appropriate because it spoke to the insanity of the question.

Posted by: NMP1 | June 8, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Oh I don't know ScottC3. Maybe like

1. Making sure claims are getting paid

2. Coordinating the response betweent the federal govt and BP

3. Setting up help to the coastal areas to prepare for the arrival of oil on our shores.

4. Setting up a commission to investigate what went wrong.

5. Having his AG determine if BP committed any crimes.

6. Trying to cajole congress into lifting the cap on liability.

And that's just on this issue, not to mention everything else he has to deal with.

Any more questions?

Posted by: sgwhiteinfla | June 8, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

This is another example of the beltway media talking among themselves about something the country could care less about.

There are a lot of things the public does care about regarding the gulf, but Obama's expression of anger (or lack of) is not one of them.

It's sad that during one of the worse disasters in our history that the MSM can't find something relevant to report.

Posted by: Beeliever | June 8, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Bush and Cheney's swearing was mean spirited and personal (azzh*le and f@#k you). This was nothing.

Posted by: thebobbob | June 8, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I don't care whether President Obama swears.

I do care whether he swears at some harmless & innocuous CEO for PR effect, when he ought to be up the backside of his own administration for not being able to get out of 1st gear six weeks ago.

"3. Setting up help to the coastal areas..."

My A$$, to quote the POTUS.

{A little rough language w/Shorty in Iran, and oh, perhaps, Abbas or Chavez would be quite pleasant also.}

Posted by: tao9 | June 8, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Of course this was theater. The President was a guest on a tv show known for its mixture of news and entertainment. He was asked a provocative, visual-inducing question. The President was comfortable with that image of kicking someone and enhanced the hostile aspect by using a more profane term to answer. There should be no doubt the President is up to his ears in the public relations game surrounding this emergency. Unfortunately for him, Americans want to see more action to control the spill, guard the coast and environment, and less pr games. It is too bad the President's life experience is mostly as an advocate. He could use some expertise from having managed a large entity that from time to time required an executive response to emergencies.

Posted by: libertasdon | June 8, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

>> This game is unwinnable. <<

I don't think that's true.

Obama's a very smart guy. He ought to understand he doesn't actually have to BE mad - anymore than Bruce Willis has to kill people. Acting works. I'm serious when I say that Obama should take some acting lessons. Americans - like the Japanese - are much more interested in appearance than reality. When people want the show - give them one.

Posted by: dooloob | June 8, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

@BM: The problem is that you don't play well with others, relying on gratuitous name calling, berating, and generally being an obnoxious troll instead of any kind of real exchange of ideas. I would ask Greg to ban you if you weren't so utterly incompetent at making the conservative case.

Posted by: srw3 | June 8, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Of course this was theater. The President was a guest on a tv show known for its mixture of news and entertainment. He was asked a provocative, visual-inducing question. The President was comfortable with that image of kicking someone and enhanced the hostile aspect by using a more profane term to answer. There should be no doubt the President is up to his ears in the public relations game surrounding this emergency. Unfortunately for him, Americans want to see more action to control the spill, guard the coast and environment, and less pr games. It is too bad the President's life experience is mostly as an advocate. He could use some expertise from having managed a large entity that from time to time required an executive response to emergencies.

Posted by: libertasdon | June 8, 2010 5:37 PM
It's too late for that. Obama ignored requests for barrier islands and other prevention methods until after the oil came to shore.

My guess is democrats figured it would be to their advantage.

- Place all blame on BP (responsible for the spill but not responsible for lack of protection action)
- Hurt the economies of the red states that won't vote for him anyways
- Take focus off the economy and use as an excuse for the economy not recovering
- Use as a springboard for climate change legislation and oil company "windfall taxes"

At this point with all the lies and hypocrisy coming out of the white house it wouldn't surprise me if the above is true.

Posted by: Cryos | June 8, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Obama used the word A$$ to illustrate and put an emphasis on the media obsession with the theatrics and the shallow tough rhetoric that made them swoon for Bush.
We on the left felt very frustrated by the media's willingness, especially in the face of trash treatment they got, to roll over for Bush.
They cheerled a dubious war. They ignored the worst behavior in office of any president.
they swooned for Bush because he played their game. he took their focus off what was going on in the WH and did it with playing dress up and posturing like a cowboy and fool.
The press, most likely knowing the game, ate it up and applauded and begged for more.
Bush, his incompetence, his breaking of so many laws that would have gotten any other president impeached and ripped in the press, was able to get favorable treatment by an adoring press far longer then any president in history.
For 6 of his 8 years the press rolled over.
Any close look or questioning brought the beltway heathers to a rage and the How Dare You! looks.
This president, for the right's constant victim playing, actually had something like a couple weeks honeymoon before the press went after him, questioned his thinking and basically has gone so far as to contradict themselves in the same breath in thier criticism.
It's because during the first few months obama did pressers and was knowing, informed and dignified. he also shunned the soundbites and playing for the cameras as Bush did.
They have been pining away for Clinton tears and I feel your pain. They miss the jokes, the aw shucks head ducks of Bush and his bullhorn.
Most likely the press feels Bush and Reagan were the greatest ever because they played for the cameras.
They see obama and Kerry, Gore and Carter rolled into one. they have come to hate him for not playing dress up.

Posted by: vwcat | June 9, 2010 12:58 AM | Report abuse

YEEEEHAWWW Mr. President! Ya'll just come on back now!!! We gonna all just throw some "Rambo" tapes in the VCR and get all likkered up, then we gonna go KICK SOME ASS!

Posted by: jaybee61 | June 9, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

So basically your defense of Obama is that he's suggestible.

Posted by: hillsideave | June 9, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

We as a nation need to stand against those that are not taking immediate action to seal and or contain the BP oil spill. "That demand may include your vote!"

This is a national emergency and needs to be addressed as such not only by the President but by all branches of government: the senate, congress, and courts including the people of the United States.

Together we can stand and remedy this situation. Contact your state represent and ask how you can help!

Also demand that the twenty year ban that was just lifted allowing oil drilling in areas including Florida; that the ban be put back in place.

That this ban be in place permanently in sensitive coral reef areas and where marine life and our food supply are in danger from drilling.

That in other areas the ban be in place until such a time as it can be proven that the technology is more than adequate to drill safely within those areas.

Also rather than have BP ask the public for help, why not have BP and our government pay engineers, scientists, and professionals for their time in solving the oil spill problem. Offering monetary incentives for those people to come forward with their ideas and solutions.

Then let those solving applications be put in place on ASAP basis to stop the horrific flow of hydrocarbons that are flowing into the ocean. Pollution that is killing our diverse forms of biological life.

If we do not address this pollution on an immediate basis what will our food supply be like? And how long will it be before the food supply is safe for human consumption, decades, years or days?

Posted by: M_Miles | June 10, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Hold on! It's all a mistake! What the President really meant to say is so he'll know whose ass to "kiss." So everything's alright. Nothing to worry about.

Posted by: dwickstrom | June 10, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

After Obama caps the well he's going to put a cap in somebodies ass. Now that's going street, baby!

Posted by: potvin | June 14, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

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