Spinning It Just Right

Was the President angry enough at BP?  Too angry?  It’s interesting to see the range of opinion.

*Charles Blow in The New York Times thought he ran the risk of seeming too detached and ineffective.

*Adam Serwer of American Prospect complained that his “kick ass” comment, stepped over the line.

*Lori Ziganto, blogging on RedState, thought the problem was he just didn’t do it convincingly enough.

*CNN’s John Blake warned that the American public doesn’t like angry black men.

*Greg Sargent of The Washington Post thought the public will judge Obama on the substance of his response.        Political commentators are too eager to rush into filling the gap. (In Newsweek see, “Is Obama Angry Enough?”)

There seem to be as many points of view as there are commentators, which is reassuring in a way.  Obviously different sectors of the population have different reactions.  It doesn’t surprise me, for example, that Charles Blow, who is black, wants our first black president to be more assertive, while Lori Ziganto, blogging for a conservative site, takes a skeptical and dismissive stance.  But what is the rush?

On one level, it’s obvious that this is what commentators do.  Journalists and bloggers are keeping themselves and their readers busy with a steady stream of interpretation, cultivating an illusion of understanding what is really going on in the world, what we need to think.  The public verdict is far from having been delivered, but, as usual, it is being anticipated and shaped.

At the same time, though, I wonder if the public verdict isn’t also being forestalled.  Before one has much of a chance to have a reaction of one’s own, the whole range of potential reactions is on display.  The instant and insistent stream of commentary virtually occupies the space of public discourse.  In a sense, it has become the public discourse.

Have commentators become afraid that people won’t have their own ideas, that they are standing in for a public that is confused and inarticulate?  Perhaps the public itself is becoming hesitant to speak its mind without their opinions being vetted by some journalistic authority.  Or is the commentary simply irrelevant?

It’s hard enough to have an original idea – much less a new perception — as those who study human consciousness know all too well.  The brain holds on to its past formulations pretty firmly.  But this barrage of all conceivable opinion virtually ensures that we will keep on talking to each other in all the old familiar ways.

Sooner or later, of course, a consensus will emerge about Obama and the oil spill, one that it will then be up to historians to challenge and reshape.  But now we seem to want to ensure that the dead hand of the past comes down hard and fast, before anyone has too much time to think about what is really happening.