Posted by: ethurman | July 28, 2009

Speaking One’s Mind

This article from the New York Times reflects on Obama’s remarks regarding the Henry Louis Gates Jr. case.  This is a perfect example of how a small remark can have huge repercussions and serves to remind the president of how much weight his words carry.  I think that part of the reason Obama’s comments received so much coverage (outside of the fact that any racially charged story will be heavily covered) is that they seemed out of character.  Obama is known for his deliberate manner of speaking and as the author of the article points out, “when he speaks extemporaneously, he often pauses before he speaks and appears to be thinking his answers through even as he gives them.”  While Bush was frequently criticized and ridiculed for his “Bushisms” Obama is known for carefully considering each thing he says.  The issue with Obama’s comment to the Cambridge police is not that he said something he did not mean but that he said it in a way that caused controversy.  The reason this article stood out to me is because this issue of whether or not the president can ever say what he or she wants further reminds us that presidents are human beings too—an issue that was brought up in the discussion over whether or not it is appropriate for Americans to know everything about a candidate’s personal life or medical history.  How genuine and honest of a picture do we want of our president?   How telling is it to hear a person respond to a situation without carefully thinking over his or her response?  This might be revealing of a person’s character in the way that seeing a person on television is.  In the end, it is important to remember that even presidents will make mistakes and say things that they may (or may not) believe in a way that some people find offensive.  As the article says, “[t]he fact of the matter is [Obama’s] a human being. As gifted and bright and disciplined as he is, every once in a while, he doesn’t use words exactly as he intended or in retrospect discussion it had meaning beyond what he wanted to express.”

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