The Post documents what anyone following President Obama’s speeches and press conferences knows: He is really late. A lot. “Obama has been a cumulative 2,121 minutes late to events in 2014. That’s 35 hours, 21 minutes — or almost a day and a half — that his audiences have been waiting for him to speak.” On average, that is only 11 minutes per event, but in some cases (for his Wednesday afternoon press conference, for example) he can be an hour late. (George W. Bush was famously punctual.)
But why is he so late? We can only speculate. But it’s a widely studied behavior in the population as a whole, so there is some informed analysis on the topic. Psychologists have several explanations for habitual lateness:
Angry people who behave with almost exaggerated calm and courtesy might nevertheless express their anger through passive means, that is, through (conscious or unconscious) resistance to meeting the reasonable expectations of others. Examples of passive-aggressive behavior include creating doubt and confusion; forgetting or omitting significant facts or items; withdrawing; . . . shifting blame; and, of course, being late—often on a frequent and unpredictable basis. . . .
As we have seen, being late, especially egregiously or repeatedly late, [also] sends out the message, “I am more important than you”.
All of that seems to ring a bell with this president, who during the course of his presidency has become more angry and disagreeable with the media and his critics. (That disdain for candor and openness came to characterize the relationship that former press secretary Jay Carney had with the media. In fact, it’s hard to recall any press secretary so openly dismissive and condescending toward the media. He was there because the president wanted him to be.)
There may be a couple of other factors at work here. First, Obama’s second-term staff is filled with flunkies and cronies who are there because they make the president feel entirely comfortable, unchallenged even. He has weeded out strong personalities with records of accomplishment and a reservoir of public respect. He’s left with characters like Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer, who are vicious combatants and, above all, presidential loyalists. It is distinctly possible that this is only one instance in which the “don’t disturb the king” mentality manifests itself. (And if they can’t tell him he is late, imagine how hard it is to tell him he’s wrong.)
Second, lateness is the most obvious form of procrastination. We don’t procrastinate tasks that we are adept at and from which we derive satisfaction or praise. In the case of Obama, it’s understandable that he procrastinates, given how poorly his speeches and press conferences have been received of late. He is often angry, defensive or evasive — and, more than ever before in his political career, challenged openly. Mainstream media figures routinely rip his performances as either dishonest (e.g. refusing to admit he lied on “you can keep your doctor”) or lackadaisical and detached. I’m sure he’d rather hang around with aides who tell him what a swell job he is doing, how mean his opponents are and how misinformed everyone else is.
We don’t really know precisely why he’s late, but one thing is for certain. If he cared about keeping others waiting or acknowledged that his behavior is downright rude, he wouldn’t do it.