Arrogant Obama

Long, long ago, when my father was deeply into Christian spirituality, serving for years as a Methodist minister, he asked his bishop if it would be okay to smoke while he prayed.

The Bishop was firm. Of course not. Prayer should be thought of as a deeply religious expression of faith, a conversation with God. Smoking would be out of place.

My father was considered a bit of a gadfly in the early 1950s. As pastor to a rural conservative church, he preached a sermon against McCarthyism. The Bishop resisted the tsunami of outraged demands that this troublesome preacher be rid of.

A couple of years later, after the outcry diminished, my dad was quietly transferred to a small town. It was there that he objected to a cherished annual event, a minstrel show in blackface.

The outcry became deafening when he preached about it in a sermon entitled:

Know the truth, and the truth shall make you sick.

I think the title was taken from something written by noted liberal crusader Norman Cousins, which wouldn’t have gone over well.

A minister who wanted to smoke during prayer had to be low on the Bishop’s Maslow pyramid. Still, he said no.

Several months later, figuring the Bishop might have forgotten the conversation, my dad tried again. This time, he asked in a slightly different way:

Would it be okay if he prayed while he smoked?

The Bishop seemed surprised by the question. Of course it was okay. Prayer was the universal contact with God. It should be encouraged at any and all times.

I do try to imagine the reaction of this weary Bishop toward the end. Was he relieved when this controversy-hound of a pastor finally asked to be released from the ministry?

I think of my long departed and deeply missed father when I consider some of the rhetorical attacks on President Obama. I am intrigued by the word “arrogant.” Of course, he is not the only politician described that way.

The way, way conservative site PJMedia had it right back in 2015:

Ted Cruz is intellectually arrogant…

Welcome to the club, Ted.

Pretty much anyone has to be possessed by hubris when running for the top spot. Everyone’s one-time favorite conservative William F. Buckley once ruminated on every candidate’s run for President. He pointed out that it is faintly ridiculous to imagine anyone as President who is not President.

Ed Kilgore once recalled Buckley applying that to Nelson Rockefeller. New York’s governor ran in 1968, under a simple banner, replicated in bumper stickers and yard signs: “Rocky!” with an exclamation point. Kilgore recalls:

At the time William F. Buckley suggested that a mere “Rocky” wasn’t enough to convey the intended excitement of a Rockefeller candidacy, while “Rocky! Ahhhh!” might be a bit much.

I remember Ed Muskie running in 1972. He clearly overplayed it.

President Muskie! (Don’t you feel better already?)

Amused opponents answered it simply: No.

President Muskie was a silly thought because, well, only Presidents can be thought of that way.

In describing Ted Cruz, PJMedia did not stop with their criticism. They also included a President.

Ted Cruz is intellectually arrogant, like Ronald Reagan. The difference is that Reagan masked his arrogance with self-deprecating humor. Sen. Cruz does a Reagan impression that would do a nightclub comedian proud, but he doesn’t have Reagan’s easy and spontaneous humor.

But then they reveal their real feelings about President Reagan – and about Senator Cruz. Reagan was not self-important. He was truly great because he believed he could accomplish great things. He was arrogant in the same sense as another President:

One doesn’t think of Reagan as arrogant, but he was in fact the most arrogant leader we have had since Lincoln. He ignored the whole of the foreign policy establishment in his conviction that America stood to win the Cold War and bring down Communism.

See what they did there with Lincoln? Good old Arrogant Abe? Thinking he could wipe out slavery?

They go on to suggest that Ted’s arrogance is not what everyone thinks. It is, in fact, an ambition to do great things on behalf of a grateful humanity. Like, you know, real Presidents.

Our common use of the word “arrogant” is pretty close to the dictionary definition.

An exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

Pretty much any candidate for the most powerful position in the world can be thought of as arrogant. That is because they are. They can actually think of themselves as President.

President Muskie! (Don’t you feel better already?)


Once in office, the importance of a President is hard to exaggerate. His ability needs no amplification. He can actually blow up the world.

Presidents are criticized. That is what a free press and, more important, a free citizenry does. But arrogance is usually not what we think about presidents we don’t like.

Quinnipiac University released a poll. Respondents were asked to describe Donald Trump. The top ten words used were as follows:

  1. idiot
  2. incompetent
  3. liar
  4. leader – – that’s not a bad one
  5. unqualified
  6. president – – that’s obvious
  7. strong – – that’s okay
  8. businessman – – yup
  9. ignorant – – oh well
  10. egotistical

Arrogant was so far down the list you’d have to drill for it. Presidents are not arrogant, but they do get criticized. It’s what we do.

Ron Paul retrospectively criticized President Reagan for spending without taxing:

I remember when Reagan asked us to raise the debt limit by 50 billion dollars in the first year he was in office.

He says “This is the last time I’m going to ask you to raise the debt limit.”

Before he was out of office he had us raise the debt limit five hundred billion dollars.

George Herbert Walker Bush was excoriated for this:

Read my lips! No new taxes!

His son, George W. Bush was criticized on the Iraq invasion by liberals, then increasingly by conservatives like Laura Ingraham:

The mishandling, I would say, the PR on the war, and the actual strategy on the ground during Bush.

And by pretty much everyone on Katrina:

George Bush doesn’t care about black people!

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Traitor to His Class. Herbert Hoover was hated for the Great Depression and Hoovervilles – the popular name for tent cities that provided thin shelter for the suddenly homeless.

Lots of criticism. Pretty much every President.

But the moment President Obama took office, a new standard was reached. The vitiol began before he had formulated a single program, before he had performed a single action.

Death threats, threats reaching the level of concern for the Secret Service, went up by multiples. Racist signs and chants became the norm in some conservative areas.

There were, of course, adults roaming through conservative hallways. Among more responsible critics, a new word was introduced. The one meaning an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

Joe Scarborough reacted when President Obama talked about how to change the hearts and minds of those who denigrated those in poverty:

the arrogance

Michelle Malkin disagreed with Obama’s policy in Syria:

He is so flippant and arrogant

Tea party conservative Wayne Allyn Root got personal:

the arrogance and stupidity of Barack Hussein Obama


One of the milder of many ham-handed parodies, put out by a now defunct internet group, survives on

The most arrogant man in the world.

Knee slapper, there.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, December 6, 2009 (From Obama Photographer Pete Souza via Instagram)
I recall a photograph of the new President in the White House. He leaned back head resting against a wall, listening thoughtfully to Vice President Joe Biden, standing in front of him. A friend showed me the photograph.

So arrogant.

Perhaps it was the slight upward positioning of the chin. How else to rest one’s head against a flat surface? Or maybe it was something more obvious.

In 2009, the new and easy use of that word, arrogant, became of some interest to me. I looked it up. Sure enough, the definition was the same:

An exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

I think again of my father when he dwelt among the living as a cigarette smoking Man-of-God.

Can I smoke when I’m praying?
has a different ring than words with identical meaning
Can I pray when I’m smoking?

So how does that work with an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities? The word is relative, a comparison of what he think of himself with what we think of him. And all comparisons can translate to their reverse. I am taller and she is shorter. He is lighter, I am – – okay never mind.

He is arrogant translates to something a little less antiseptic.

He is less than he thinks.
He is inferior to his self image.
or even
He is inferior.

When I was a kid, parents occasionally noticed an attitude not fitting our position in the hierarchy of things as they ought to be. “You must think you’re grown” would be the preface to a very precise scolding.

When we heard that scolding applied to adults, we knew the words were demeaning.

Boy, know your place!


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Two Presidents, Two Confrontations, One Winner

It was a last ditch effort by President Trump to pull support from conservative Republicans for the final repeal of the healthcare that Democrats had put into place seven years before. We have no recordings. We have no transcript. We do have what Republicans themselves are saying.

From Politico:

Donald Trump had heard enough about policy and process. It was Thursday afternoon and members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act … when Trump decided to cut them off.

“Forget about the little s**t,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let’s focus on the big picture here.”

The word, as quoted was not “stuff”.

A participant of the meeting explains to a reporter that the President

did not have the greatest grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure.

Another conservative is quoted by Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker magazine that it is…

…astonishing how in over his head trump is. He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy of this.

It is a clear enough summary of a Presidential approach. The “small” stuff, that was not called “stuff”, was what would affect the health of millions of American families. The “big picture” was politics.

The meeting brought to mind another confrontation that made the news. That encounter had to do with Obamacare as well. We know more of that meeting. We have transcripts. We have a video record.

House Republicans had scheduled a retreat in Baltimore a few weeks into 2010. Barack Obama had been President for just a year. Republican leaders had a great idea. They decided to invite the new President. Their top policy experts would join together, subjecting the chief executive to a grilling that would make political history.

President Obama’s one year of Presidential experience would be no match against all of the accumulated expertise of veteran house members. They would make him look foolish.

Then the President surprised them with a monumental blunder. His staff actually asked if the event might be televised. Republicans were gleeful. President Obama would not only be humiliated it would be broadcast to a national audience.

On January 29, 2010, President Obama was warmly greeted by the Baltimore gathering. Then the questions began.

The President was attacked for a lack of transparency on healthcare by Jason Chaffetz of Utah:

When you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn’t. I was disappointed, and I think a lot of Americans were disappointed.

The President responded mildly, correcting the assertion.

Overwhelmingly the majority of it actually was on C-SPAN, because it was taking place in congressional hearings in which you guys were participating.

The President suggested the Congressman look to the record.

I kicked it off, by the way, with a meeting with many of you, including your key leadership.

The President was sure and confident. Republicans had not expected this.

A new member of Congress challenged the President, accusing him of tolerating wasteful congressional earmarks that would benefit only special interests within key congressional districts. The President smiled at the question.

Some in the audience had to have squirmed as he addressed earmarks specifically designed by Republicans to benefit Republicans. The President acknowledged that some earmarks might have been defensible, but that they all shared an important defect:

They haven’t gone through the regular appropriations process in the full light of day. So one place to start is to make sure that they are at least transparent, that everybody knows what’s there before we move forward.

Then President Obama issued his own challenge to the new member.

The challenge I guess I would have for you as a freshman, is what are you doing inside your caucus to make sure that I’m not the only guy who’s responsible for this stuff, so that we’re working together?

A questioner demanded to know when the President would ever begin to listen to Republican ideas on conservative goals.

When will we look forward to starting anew and sitting down with you to put all of these ideas on the table, to look at these lessons learned, to benefit from that experience, and to produce a product that is going to reduce government interference, reduce cost, and be fair to the American taxpayer?

The President waited for the applause to settle, then corrected the premise.

Actually, I’ve gotten many of your ideas. I’ve taken a look at them, even before I was handed this. Some of the ideas we have embraced in our package. Some of them are embraced with caveats. So let me give you an example.

He then mentioned several specific Republican proposals, detailing a brief analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each. It became clear to the audience that he had prepared. This was not going as they had planned.

The challenges went on. Questions ranged from softball to aggressive and harsh.

Jeb Hensarling, of Texas, demanded to know why the President wanted to triple the national debt. President Obama calmly corrected him.

I’ll go through it with you line by line. The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was 1.3 trillion dollars – 1.3 – So when you say that suddenly I’ve got a monthly deficit that’s higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that’s factually just not true, and you know it’s not true.

When questions became especially hostile, President Obama turned accusations around and gently used them to make his own point about Republican obstruction.

Jeb, with all due respect, I’ve just got to take this last question as an example of how it’s very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we’re going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign.

And he did not shrink from challenging some assertions.

I am happy to have any independent fact-checker out there take a look at your presentation versus mine in terms of the accuracy of what I just said.

In the end, the gleeful Republican joy at the prospect of embarrassing President Obama had become a shambles. The disappointment turned into a simmering fury. Angry Republicans told reporters that the White House had ambushed the Republican gathering. The suggestion for television cameras had been a trap contrived to make them look silly in front of a national audience.

The President had violated Republican expectations. He had not been humiliated. He had humiliated them.

President Obama’s mastery of Republican proposals, his ability to put policy into understandable language, his gentle responses to conservative aggressiveness made the news. It survives now, every nuance preserved on video. He had faced a hostile audience, he had done it in public, and he had surrounded angry arguments and gently destroyed them.

That event provides a remarkable contrast to President Trump’s private meeting with a friendly group of conservatives. We have no transcript. We have no visual record. We do have the accounts of Republicans themselves.

heard enough about policy and process.

no grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure.

astonishing how in over his head trump is. He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy.

One President stressed policy. The other told conservatives to ignore policy.

One spoke of the health of ordinary Americans. The other did not think the effect on real lives was worth considering.

One seemed to know more about conservative proposals than did the conservatives making those proposals. The other did not know, did not want to know, those little details.

Americans are learning to deal with a new President, a President with a limited attention span, with limited patience for other lives, with an obsession for how things look politically.

Americans are learning again each day how fondly they remember the last occupant of White House.

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