Obama's Anger Management

You could sense the anger in the President’s words and on his face as he spoke to the nation yesterday after a meeting with his national security and intelligence aides. "This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had," the President explained. "That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it."

We already knew some things about President Obama’s management style. The first thing we knew about it is that it was a work in progress: Obama had been a legislator, not a chief executive, for most of his career and the skill sets are remarkably different. The second thing we knew from watching him during the campaign and in his first year in office is that he brings a breathtaking degree of self-confidence into the room: He was not afraid to challenge then-Sen. Hillary Clinton for the nomination, and he also was not afraid to appoint her to be the nation’s Secretary of State. Thirdly, we realized that Obama is, at heart, a wonk, that his first instinct is to learn more, to get divergent opinions and encourage heated debate among his advisors. His decision to send more troops to Afghanistan was the result of such a process and it has its obvious benefits.


Yesterday, we saw full force what we have only seen glimpses of beforehand: A steely anger at those whose performance does not measure up to his standards. It is a rite of passage as much as a right and responsibility of those in executive authority. Everyone who has been in a subordinate position, who has felt the lash of authority, who has worked under a rage-a-holic, imagines themselves being a different kind of boss someday, someone whose leadership is benign, who is never cross, who does not visit frustrations upon his underlings. Certainly, Obama’s commitment to rational processes, and his own considerable self-control, betray his sense that reason should rule the passions, not the other way round – and we should all be grateful for this quality of his character.

Sometimes, alas, a person in executive leadership must exhibit anger, must call people to task, must fire those who are incompetent, in short, must lead with their heart not with their head. Staff, all staff, even the staff at an organization like the CIA or the FBI, needs to be monitored and encouraged and chastised because they are human beings which is another way of saying they will make mistakes. Even with some righteous anger from the boss, there will still be mistakes. Another Abdulmutallab will fall through the cracks. A piece of scanning equipment will malfunction before someone notices. Something, somewhere, will always go wrong. The goal is to minimize those instances and their consequences.

The President showed us something we needed to see about him yesterday. We Americans want to know that our President gets upset when those entrusted with keeping us safe mess up. We need to see his emotions every once in awhile because we know that political leadership requires more than brains: Jimmy Carter was undoubtedly one of the smartest presidents of the twentieth century but his presidency was not the most successful. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was said to have "a first class temperament but a second class intellect" but that combination made him the most consequential president of the century. I was comforted seeing the President’s barely controlled, highly focused anger yesterday, and I was glad it wasn’t directed at me.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 9 months ago
Jim McCrea-I am laughing out loud. Thank you.
Bill Bordas
8 years 9 months ago
Well said!
Jeff Bagnell
8 years 9 months ago
I didn't get the sense that he was that angry at all.  This seems like more Obama hagiography.
Michael Liddy
8 years 9 months ago
This reads like its from a 15 year old writing in awe of the President of the United States of America. It's a little much.
8 years 9 months ago
"This reads like its from a 15 year old writing in awe of the President of the United States of America. It's a little much."
Welcome to the blog!  Mr. Obama = do no wrong, say no wrong, think no wrong!  Hagiography indeed!  Winters actually makes me enjoy reading Maureen Dowd these days for some more "objective" perspective from a liberal.
Oh, and I should add, if you're a Republican, you are the source of all evil in the world.
8 years 9 months ago
We are not in Cambridge anymore. Turns out, having had a real job in the real world, well, it might have been helpful after all.
Jeff Bagnell
8 years 9 months ago
If our security apparatus does not start profiling for these islamic fanatics now, then our country is on its way out.  We should do exactly what Israel does.  El Al would have yanked this guy out of line the second they saw him.  
Gabriel Marcella
8 years 9 months ago
Our democracy's interests are best served when the media conducts rigorous and objective analysis of the performance of the president and the institutions of government. Indeed, hagiography is not the answer. It serves to raise expectations to a level that cannot be met, and disposes us against asking the hard questions. So, let's peer behind the theatrics of "anger management" and see if the president and his advisors are learning how to conduct foreign policy and defend the nation. Our leaders and institutions are not infallible and our processes for decision-making are vulnerable to dysfunction. Roll up our sleeves, set aside partisanship, fix what needs to be fixed, and learn a lesson so that we can avoid tragedy in the future. A lot of factors will influence the learning: personality, ideology, the quality of the advisory system, group think dymanics, the impact of competing domestic and global priorities, etc.. Confidence helps, but it's not the only attribute that matters. Witness the confidence of Obama's predecessor.
John Smythe
8 years 9 months ago
Is not this supposed to be a Catholic journal ...
david power
8 years 9 months ago

Dr Smyth
This is supposed to be a catholic Journal ,which has the beauty of being Universal.What do you mean by your comment?The article refers to a poltical situation that does not refer to issues of the faith.It is more political.The writer on a good day is the best writer on catholic issues in the English language,sadly he is also an incorrigible democrat.Hence this article. Mr Winters is too smart and too deep to really believe the nonsense he has written and so I presume it is a hack piece.A real jekyll and hyde ,his next article will probably be brilliant .Stay tuned.
Jim McCrea
8 years 9 months ago
Sounds as if a few of the kiddies didn't have a nice New Year!
Well -
When in wonder, when in doubt.
Run in circles, scream and shout!


The latest from america

Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)
About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro.
Filipe DominguesOctober 22, 2018
Sexual orientation by itself is irrelevant to child sexual abuse. The risk factors include impulse control problems and substance abuse, and offenders take advantage of situations in which they are trusted.
Thomas G. PlanteOctober 22, 2018
“Jesus finds people where they are, but he never leaves them where they are.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 22, 2018
Paddy Considine in ‘The Ferryman’ (photo: Joan Marcus)
In the fallen world of “The Ferryman,” conflict and compromise poison everything.
Rob Weinert-KendtOctober 22, 2018