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Obama, the Great Placator, needs to throw some elbows

By Courtland Milloy
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 10:23 PM

Watching President Obama walk back to the White House with a busted lip from a recent basketball game, I was hoping he would step toward the TV cameras and show off his scar. Taste the blood in his mouth, tell us that he'll just have to take it out on the Republicans or something.

Instead, Obama trudged on by, nursing his wounds, looking like a kid who had just been sucker-punched in a schoolyard brawl.

And then came this account in The Post on Monday:

"A White House official with knowledge of the incident, and eager to make the president look as tough as possible, said that [Reynaldo Decerega, director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and owner of the flying elbow,] required a hospital visit after the collision and received some stitches himself."

I don't mean to pile on with more criticism of Obama as a wimp, but a White House spin doctor to make him look tough after a pickup basketball game? Man up, Obama. Let us see you with blood on your teeth and fire in your eyes. Or does being the first black president mean you can never show yourself to be a man in full?

Now he wants a pay freeze for federal employees, announced just in time for Christmas - and only two months after proposing to give them a modest raise.

Did the Republican leadership pop him in the mouth, too?

Obama's decision will be a devastating blow to the Washington area's economy, not to mention a betrayal of some of his most loyal supporters and the nation's most dedicated public servants. After throwing nearly a trillion dollars to rescue banks and big business, he turns around and picks the pocket of everyday working people.

Has there ever been a president who treated his sworn enemies so much better than his proven friends?

What a milquetoast.

How does the president respond to the unauthorized release of hundreds of thousands of classified documents? White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama "was, as an understatement, not pleased" with WikiLeaks.

It's been two years since Obama's election, and that's how he always looks in the face of bad news. Never angry, never disgusted or fed up. During the oil spill in Gulf of Mexico, he actually issued a news release that cited the emotions - "anger and frustration" - that he intended to convey during an upcoming speech.

And he still came across as merely not pleased.

Neither am I, obviously. In fact, I think Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked a lot more presidential than Obama in her response to the leaks.

By most accounts, Obama acts like a black man behind closed doors. He talks trash while shooting hoops, talks Chicago South Side tough with his aides and conveys a range of emotions, including anger.

Once in public, though, he demurs - as if upholding some unspoken bargain with white America to never look like an angry black man in exchange for continued off-the-charts "likability" ratings and a shot at reelection in 2012.

It's bad enough that there are so few black men in public life who can be thought of as feared and respected - except for athletes such as, say, LeBron James. No black "Hammer" in the House, as Tom DeLay was called. No black arm-twisting Dick Cheney or in-your-face Rahm Emanuel lurking in the West Wing. Not even a black James Carville just to show up and harass the opposition.

But for a black president to apparently choose to be the Great Placator is downright embarrassing. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times calls Obama "a 46-year-old virgin"; The Post's Kathleen Parker says he acts like the nation's "first female president."

You know it's bad when a white woman tag team can play the dozens with a black man and score unanswered points left and right.

On Monday, Obama's manhood took three more hits in the headlines: From The Post's E.J. Dionne, "Does Obama have it in him to respond to critics?" From The Post's Marc Thiessen, "Obama administration is weak in the face of WikiLeaks." And from Robert Kuttner in the Huffington Post, "Backbone, Please."

Much of this criticism against Obama has to do with his resolve, not his race. But I see the president as a black man first. It's a pride thing. Obama's victory wasn't just about his progressive platform. It was a historic, racial barrier-busting victory that was supposed to make it just a little easier for black boys to imagine being president.

But Obama is proving himself to be a most peculiar commander in chief. Maybe another black boy will someday grow up to become president, but if he turns out to be like Obama, it'll be hard to call him a black man.

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