10.09.2012

NewsFeed: The Presidential Debate

Before I get into the actual content of this NewsFeed, I had to mention two important snippets:

Ana at Things Mean a Lot has compiled some amazing research on YA lit and the supposed gender imbalance represented therein.  It is smart, thoughtful, and well-designed, and you should take a look. Even if you don't read YA, the conversation has wider implications.  Especially with knock-down quotes like this one:
There's nothing natural or inevitable about a boy's refusal to have anything to do with the feminine, and validating the idea that this is only to be expected is not only unhelpful but actively harmful.
Also, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness alerted me to this excellent argument regarding the actual gender imbalance in major reviewing publications.  Not only does it speak to an important issue; it also serves as an awfully good example of argument for my Rhetoric & Composition students.  Take that, work-life balance!

Now, onto the politics.  I can't guarantee that NewsFeed will only focus on politics until November, but I can't guarantee it won't either.  First: the President is reading again (Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending according to this Vanity Fair article)!  I both get and don't get why he doesn't talk about books more publicly; I just wish he would.  In addition to mentioning the book, the article does a good job of trying to get inside the world (and head) of the President.  Perhaps my favorite part of this excellent article is this explanation of what it takes to do the job:
“You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” The self-discipline he believes is required to do the job well comes at a high price. “You can’t wander around,” he said. “It’s much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. You don’t bump into a friend in a restaurant you haven’t seen in years. The loss of anonymity and the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”
Now, allow me to add my voice to the raging debate over the debate.  I agree with most of the commentary on President Obama's physical and emotional detachment, his appearance of fatigue, and his unwillingness to engage in some of the rhetoric his supporters expected (especially regarding the 47% and similar attacks he could have made).  I've been slowly making my way through Susan Cain's Quiet on audio, and yesterday I listened to the portion where she defines and explains the differences between high-self-monitoring and low-self-monitoring individuals.  This website offers a basic explanation.  To me, the debate was merely President Obama functioning as the low-self-monitoring person he appears to be.  He wasn't willing or able that night to play a role, to hide his discomfort, to engage in debate that wasn't actually debate.  The VF article tells us more about that trait as he says,
“There are some things about being president that I still have difficulty doing,” he said. “For example, faking emotion. Because I feel it is an insult to the people I’m dealing with. For me to feign outrage, for example, feels to me like I’m not taking the American people seriously. I’m absolutely positive that I’m serving the American people better if I’m maintaining my authenticity. And that’s an overused word. And these days people practice being authentic. But I’m at my best when I believe what I am saying.”
I'm not defending the President's lackluster performance.  The debates are sort of part of his job right now, and he didn't do this part of his job very well.  I just think this awareness of who he is might explain it a bit. I have a feeling that two things are true of President Obama at this point:  1.  He wants to win (no matter what, he is known to be ridiculously competitive)  2. He wouldn't mind not being President anymore (and sometimes it's harder to hide that than others).  If these things seem in contrast to you, they should; however, I believe both are subordinate to a bigger desire to be of service to his country.  He may not like his job all the time, but he wants the chance to keep trying to do it better.

Finishing that article (which I obviously recommend) led me to listen to the President's 2009 Nobel Peace Prize lecture.  I won't embed it here, and I will caution you that it is "long" (at least by internet attention span standards) at almost 40 minutes.  But if you can spare the time, you will hear a substantive and thoughtful reflection on foreign policy that was written by the President himself before the massive political campaign pressures of the day.  Please consider listening.  At least then, you'll be able to know what it is Romney's policy is arguing against.

2 comments:

  1. I loved that Vanity Fair piece about President Obama. It was just really brilliantly structured and written, and really got to some of what is at the heart of the day-to-day life of a president and the coping mechanisms you have to put in place.

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    1. Yes, the structure is impressive. I also like the exchange in the comments area where somebody complained about it being merely a puff-piece, mere political promotion. Another commenter responded that yes, it could be that; or it could be that anyone who spends significant time with the man can't help but come out with a positive impression. Interesting to consider.

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I love a good conversation, even (or especially) one that gets heated, so fire away! I try to respond to all in a timely manner.