David Brooks didn’t quite go all the way to calling President Obama a Michael Corleone (as opposed to a Sonny, which is more like what George W. Bush was), but he did everything else but say the name:
The key is his post-boomer leadership style. Critics are always saying that Obama is too cool and detached, arrogant and aloof. But the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal. He is willing, with drones and other mechanisms, to use lethal force.
Normally, presidents look weak during periods of economic stagnation, overwhelmed by events. But Obama has displayed a kind of ESPN masculinity: postfeminist in his values, but also thoroughly traditional in style — hypercompetitive, restrained, not given to self-doubt, rarely self-indulgent. Administrations are undone by scandal and moments when they look pathetic, but this administration, guarded in all things, has rarely had those moments….
Brooks said that in the process of marveling at the fact that Obama even has a chance at re-election, since so many of the fundamentals are against him. He concludes that “In survey after survey, Obama is far more popular than his policies” because of what Americans think of him as a man. Not just as a person, but as a man.
Oh, and for those who are tired of me talking about “guy stuff” this week, don’t blame me on this one; Brooks brought it up.
I don’t think either of us has precisely hit the nail on the head. I keep saying “Michael Corleone” to describe his quiet, non-blustering toughness. But of course, the president is a better man than Michael Corleone. “Mensch” doesn’t quite say it either, but it points in that direction. As for Brooks’ reference to “ESPN masculinity” (a term so important to his piece that it’s his headline) — well, I don’t even know what he means by that. Maybe I don’t watch enough sports. (I’ll confess that I also get confused with what people mean when they say “postfeminist.” Some seem to use it to refer to feminism being over and done with, and therefore “NONfeminist.” Others seem to refer to a state in which feminism is taken for granted and no longer a movement, just part of life. So the word is unhelpful to me.)
Another way to say what Brooks is trying to say — “thoroughly traditional in style — hypercompetitive, restrained, not given to self-doubt, rarely self-indulgent” — is “Gary Cooper.”
But we all want to be Gary Cooper (in “High Noon,” specifically — “I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing.”). What Brooks is saying, in a way, is that Obama pulls it off.