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. …
When Morrison wrote in the New Yorker about Bill Clinton’s “blackness,” she cited the characteristics he shared with the African American community:
“Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”
If we accept that premise, even if unseriously proffered, then we could say that Obama displays many tropes of femaleness. I say this in the nicest possible way. I don’t think that doing things a woman’s way is evidence of deficiency but, rather, suggests an evolutionary achievement.
Nevertheless, we still do have certain cultural expectations, especially related to leadership. When we ask questions about a politician’s beliefs, family or hobbies, we’re looking for familiarity, what we can cite as “normal” and therefore reassuring.
Generally speaking, men and women communicate differently. Women tend to be coalition builders rather than mavericks (with the occasional rogue exception). While men seek ways to measure themselves against others, for reasons requiring no elaboration, women form circles and talk it out.
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.