Monday, June 7, 2010

Obama on College Seminars and Kicking Asses: My Response

President Obama's interview by Matt Lauer on tomorrow's Today show - or at least an excerpt from it - is receiving a lot of attention.   Obama says he meets with experts not as if he's conducting a "college seminar," but because he wants to find out "whose ass to kick" as responsible for the oil spill and its aftermath in the Gulf of Mexico.

First, let me say that I think Obama's doing a not bad job in combatting the ill effects of the spill.  The factors that led to it precede his Presidency, and if his administration has been a little slow to recognize the spill as an horrendous crisis for the region, the country, and even the world, Obama has  been quick to respond to criticism, in substance (suspending other off-shore drilling, committing more people to the tasks) as well as style (his denunciation of BP).

What I take exception to is Obama's apparent embracing now of a criticism of him made by pseudo-populists of both parties, that Obama is too "professorial" in his approach, by which they mean a man of words not action.   Anyone who really knows anything about the academic world knows that it is not just about words and ideas, but their application in the real world.   This is why, for example, in Communication and Media Studies departments (I'm a Professor in one of those at Fordham University), students take not just lectures but production courses, pursue not just theories but internships.   Just as in English department students write as well as read, in Biology department students learn about cellular structure and see it with their own eyes under microscopes, etc.

One of Obama's greatest strengths is his keen mind and capacity to see the world and its crises through the lens of logic.   Most people have capacity for ample emotion.   In a President, we want not only that, but a facility for dealing with crises with calm and reason.

No need at all for Obama to apologize or clarify his position to critics who are interested neither in the oil spill or Obama's work as President, except to make cheap points with viewers or further their own political agendas.

The excerpt from Obama's interview by Lauer follows:

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