The Washington Post

What makes Obama angry

For a variety of reasons, President Obama doesn’t do rage. It’s one of the hallmarks of his presidency, much to the consternation of his supporters, who would love nothing more than to see him rhetorically rip apart the Republican opposition on a daily basis. But if you want to get Obama visibly angry, accuse him of playing politics with national security.

I first noticed this during a June 8 White House press conference. Obama popped into the briefing room to talk about the headwinds buffeting the economy. In a two-part question about intelligence leaks to the public, David Jackson of USA Today asked him, “[W]hat’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?”

The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. . . . We are dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families, or our military personnel, or our allies. So we don’t play with that.

You might not have noticed a difference from the president’s usual steely calm amid the chaos swirling around him. But there was an intensity to the way he answered Jackson that stayed with me. Sort of like how little kids can perceive even the slightest downward slide in mood despite the nonchalant countenance on a parent’s face.

Then came Obama’s response to a question about his handling of the Benghazi tragedy. His words were pointed as he directed a withering gaze right at Mitt Romney.

The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror. And I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander in chief.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has been disrespected. His citizenship, thus his legitimacy, has been questioned. And he has been thwarted from getting anything substantive done by a cynical Republican opposition.Yet, at no point over the last four years have I seen him as angry as he appeared in that discussion last night.

A lot of politics and the presidency is theater, a part of the job Obama is known to hate. That’s why the snap in his voice and his intense glare at Romney struck me as genuine expressions of anger. National security is complicated and dangerous enough without having to deal with an opponent who would use an international crisis to act like a reckless cowboy rather than a serious statesman.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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