The President's Maturity Problem

After less than two months in office, President Obama made a decision that many at the time saw as un-presidential.  In the midst of what even he was calling the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to go on a late night comedy show.  Bizarre as it might have been, ardent Obama defenders like Robert Bianco at USA Today gave him a pass, writing, "Whatever one thinks of his policies, no one can accuse Obama of lacking gravity or dignity. He doesn't need any particular setting to bestow those qualities on him; he carries them with him."  Or not.

Just a little over two years later, it has become clear that whatever you think of his policies, the current occupant of the White House harbors an irrepressible juvenility that undermines the dignity of the office he holds.  The recent tongue lashing he administered to Republican Congressman Paul Ryan is the latest example of President Obama's increasingly evident maturity deficiency.

To grasp the magnitude of this spectacle, it is important to understand the context.  At the start of the year, the President spoke directly to Republican House leaders at their annual retreat.  There, he took on a tone reminiscent of his hope-n-change, post-partisan healer routine from the 2008 campaign trail, urging, "I don't think [the American people] want more partisanship... They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel cage match to see who comes out alive... They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done."

In such an environment of cooperation and collaboration, President Obama invited Congressman Paul Ryan -- the architect of the recent Republican budget plan -- to sit in the front row, just inches from the presidential lectern at his recent budget address.  It would be fair to assume that Ryan believed this to be a sign of goodwill.  Though the President was sure to disagree with portions of his plan, Ryan probably felt he was in for a bipartisan pat on the back and an expression of appreciation for tackling this monumental challenge.  Why else would the President save him such a seat of prominence?

How about so the Playground Bully-in-Chief could ambush Ryan and make an example of him in front of the country?  For the better part of an hour, the President of the United States lambasted Ryan's efforts publicly as little short of abandoning autistic kids to the sewers and locking Granny in the attic.

Given this undignified blindside, Rep. Ryan would have been well within his rights to walk out of the hall in disgust.  But apparently, decorum and respect are words that find meaning in the Ryan vocabulary -- more than can be said for our Chief Executive.  After all, this recent manifestation of his brazen childishness is but one thread in a much larger tapestry of immaturity that has emerged.

Remember that in 2008, John McCain purchased an ad to simply congratulate Mr. Obama the night he accepted the Democratic Party's nomination.  Obama couldn't find the grace to return the favor to the former POW, instead making a political calculation to attempt to upstage McCain's big moment by conducting his long-anticipated interview with Bill O'Reilly.

Further, since winning the presidency, Mr. Obama has refused to honor the longstanding, unspoken rule of presidential etiquette not to blame your predecessor.  And as if the petulant strains of "it's all Bush's fault," weren't enough, Obama took it a step further by refusing to credit Bush for the clear success of the Iraqi surge strategy -- a strategy that while in the Senate, Mr. Obama vehemently opposed.  Instead, his administration is shamelessly posturing to call Iraq one of its own greatest successes.

And while several presidents have been rumored or known to have used colorful language in private (Nixon and Johnson are a bipartisan couple of potty-mouths that come to mind), Barack Obama has the dubious distinction of being the first to do so publicly during a morning television interview.  The President apparently thought that using profanity while threatening to kick people's bottoms would be a fine example of presidential poise to set for the nation's youth as they ate their morning Cheerios.

But perhaps, in hindsight, the most instructive example we could have noted in the lead-up to the budget bullying extravaganza was President Obama's unprecedented attack on the Supreme Court during his 2010 State of the Union Address.  There as honored guests of the Congress, the President thought it an appropriate time to directly chastise and scold them for interpreting the law differently from how his ideology dictates.  The esteemed justices, like Ryan, were forced to sit there silently (though Justice Alito famously mouthed his displeasure) and endure an un-presidential reprimand.

Far from being a post-partisan healer, President Obama has proven himself to be petty, juvenile, and someone totally lacking the temperament and class we should expect from an Oval Office executive.  Apparently coming to grips with this uncomfortable reality as they watch him forgo press conferences for Daily Show and Tonight Show appearances, some on the left have taken a different approach in defending him.

Writing a piece entitled (no joke), "The Trouble with Presidential Dignity," the New Republic author Jonathan Chait concluded, "our problem is not too little presidential dignity but too much."  That's one national problem I feel confident that the presidency of Barack Obama will correct.

Peter is a public high school government teacher and radio talk show host in central Indiana. Email, visit, or like him on Facebook.