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An "Arrogant" President Doing His Job

Speaker John Boehner has the audacity to tell President Obama to do his job.
Speaker John Boehner has the audacity to tell President Obama to do his job.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at John Boehner’s gall.

The speaker of the House had the nerve — the chutzpah — to pen a piece last week for Politico Magazine with the title, “Do your job, Mr. President.”

John Boehner lecturing someone to do his job? The John Boehner, the man who presides over the fractious, do-nothing Republican caucus, that John Boehner?

Mr. Boehner, you do realize you are the speaker of the Congress that is breaking all records for doing nothing? Wait, that’s not entirely accurate, for it’s true the Republican-led House has acted more than 50 times to repeal or revamp Obamacare, a chimerical, quixotic quest that has no chance of success.

This is the John Boehner, by the way, who intends to sue the president for doing his job.

John Boehner is not the only Republican giving Obama advice. This past weekend, Texas Senator Ted Cruz offered this piece of wisdom: “The president should actually stand up and do his job as commander in chief…spend less time on the golf course.”

Cruz offered his opinion on the president’s activities while munching on a pork chop in Iowa. Is that part of the job description of a U.S. senator from Texas?

This is the same Ted Cruz, by the way, who recently held secret meetings with House Republicans to kill the bill to authorize money in response to the immigration crisis on the border, thereby insuring that the House failed to act on yet another important national issue.

Though a freshman senator, Cruz is not bashful about telling others how to do their job. Nor is he bashful in his choice of words to criticize the president, calling him at various times “imperial,” “an out-of-control president,” and “lawless.” But Cruz’s favorite epithet for Obama might be “arrogant.” Appearing on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show a year ago, Cruz referred to the “arrogance of this administration.” To which Limbaugh replied, “Well, you’re right.”

Calling Obama “arrogant” has become standard fare on the right. Even before the 2008 election Karl Rove offered this opinion, “I will say yes, I do think Barack Obama is arrogant.” A year later Rove said, “I’ve always said I think he's sort of an arrogant guy.”

The right-wing media quickly picked up the theme. John Stoessel, prior to the 2010 State of the Union Address, hoped to hear the president say, “I was arrogant.” John Hood of National Review Online has written, “The cadence and rhythm [of] his speaking voice… come[s] across as flippant and arrogant.” Glenn Beck referred to an “out-of-control, arrogant” president. Sean Hannity of Fox News said during the Republican-inspired government shutdown that “the president wants to be arrogant.” And former Representative Tom Tancredo recently defended impeachment because of “Obama’s arrogant disregard of the Constitution.”

The pattern is clear: On the right, “arrogant” has become code for “uppity,” a word that in the past was usually followed by the “N-word” and which was used to describe an African American who had the temerity to step outside the bounds of racial stereotypes. Martin Luther King frequently was labeled “uppity” for speaking truth to power.

The association of uppity with racial stereotypes makes the word impolitic today. But since dictionaries often define “uppity” as “arrogant,” the latter has become a useful synonym, a stand-in for describing forceful African Americans.

Of course, in one sense, Obama is “arrogant.” It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t “arrogant” — defined often as the attitude of people who believe they are smarter and better than others — becoming president. George W. Bush surely demonstrated arrogance when he landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and then spoke on the Iraq War under a banner declaring, “Mission Accomplished.”

But that’s not the usage intended by many on the right. Rather, it’s an off-handed attempt to appeal in a not-so-subtle way to racist attitudes. Commentators can’t call him “uppity,” but they can refer to him as “arrogant.”

Arrogant, apparently, for doing his job.

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