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Obama's Temper and Temperance

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Getty Images

The latest criticism of President Barack Obama stems from complaints about his laid-back persona (and its perceived impact on the delayed response) to the BP tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Often, this critique from the political right is presented as Obama's fatal presidential flaw.  However, his coolness may actually be a trait that will  help him navigate the treacherous waters in two of the three crises he's currently facing.


Fiery passion is not a prime attribute to exhibit in every situation. For example, President Obama will need a tempered hand in the aftermath of Israel's botched flotilla attack. During his tenure, the president has shown a willingness to criticize Israel's moves in the Middle East. Actions by Mr. Obama—most notably his shrewd balancing-act speech (between showing Muslim empathy and defending the American-Israeli alliance) in Egypt in 2009 and his questioning of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem earlier this year—have led to a strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The breach has widened over the past months, symbolized by Netanyahu's two canceled trips to Washington in recent months. Only temperance will enable the president and his team to ask balanced questions and address the situation from the proper perspective. In order to sift through the explosive tensions that mark the region, President Obama will need the reserved, cerebral approach he is noted for.


Regarding North Korea, the president will likely have to show measured rage toward North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and his latest military adventurism. North Korea's sinking of a South Korean ship in May was the latest show of force by a rogue nation that has displayed a willingness to exert its presence in the region. The death of the 46 South Korean sailors comes months after North Korea fired about 30 artillery rounds near Baekryeong Island and repeated missile launches throughout 2009—exercises that often coincided with American national holidays. President Obama's easy demeanor seems to have been taken for weakness by Jong-Il over the past two years. However, a sharp reversal in tone may only provoke the North Koreans to more aggressive acts. The president can fashion a big geopolitical win by balancing his "cool hand Luke" approach with a strong display of intolerance toward North Korea's latest actions.

The president must now project "strong intolerance" about BP's negligence in the Gulf of Mexico.  His tone—both publicly and behind the scenes—must reflect the heightened frustrations of Louisianans over the ecological catastrophe and loss of economic opportunities from the BP oil spills. This is doubly important now that BP's recent  violations of regulation and procedure have come to the forefront.

Obama's professorial and detached appearance has been viewed as both an admirable trait and a limiting flaw for a president. He will have to balance this defining characteristic with appropriate expressions of visible emotion to successfully tackle the trio of issues topping his priority list. The Obama trait that many conservatives rue can be the enabling factor for success in two of these situations. But taking the criticism to heart may enable Obama to get more political support—and success.

Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative). He is featured regularly on outlets including CNN, Fox News and XM Radio. Follow him on Twitter.

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