Putting Obama's 'Ass' Kicking In Context

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President Obama’s “ass” kicking comment during an interview with Today’s Matt Lauer has earned the president no small measure of derision. Critics are calling the Johnny-come-lately tough talk a calculated bit of obscenity designed to counter the president’s heretofore laconic posture on the BP disaster. And comedians and pundits are piling on. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart feigned knuckle-dragging outrage. “Barack Obama is about to embark on Assquest 2010,” he shouted. “The search for kickable ass! Who should receive the brunt of the president’s size 12 Air Jordans?!”

“The tone of his answer didn’t surprise me,” said Lauer during a phone interview on Wednesday. “One word in his answer is getting most of the attention. It’s a combination of the fact that everybody likes to put their hands over their mouth when someone says a naughty word. But it’s also the juxtaposition of this guy who’s known as a great orator, one of the most articulate guys of our times and here he comes up with an expression like this that is so basic.”

But as Lauer points out, he led the president down that road when he asked him if perhaps it was time to “kick some butt.”

Here’s the exchange transcribed by Federal News Service:

MR. LAUER: Critics are now talking about your style, which is the first time I’ve heard that in a long time. And they’re saying here’s a guy who likes to be known as cool and calm and collected, and this isn’t the time for cool, calm and collected –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

MR. LAUER: — that this is not the time to meet with experts and advisers. This is a time to spend more time in the Gulf and — I never thought I’d say this to a president — but kick some butt.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.)

MR. LAUER: And I don’t mean it to be funny.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. And I understand. And here’s what — I’m going to push back hard on this, because I think that this is just an idea that got in folks’ heads and the media has run with it. I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick, right?

So while the president (and certainly his advisors) may have been more than happy to walk through the kick-ass door, the comment was nevertheless part of a longer exchange and thus doesn’t quite jive with the punditocracy’s assertions.

“Clearly he doesn’t want that image out there that he is being too analytical and professorial about this,” notes Lauer. “He wants people to understand that he is taking action. When he went off on that, it didn’t really shock me. I just think it’s important to put it in context [and] to understand that he didn’t just draw ‘kick some ass’ out of thin air. If you just saw the sound-bite without the question you might be tempted to think that this was completely calculated and a day before he said, I’m going to use the word ‘ass’ on the air and that’s going to shake people up. I don’t think that’s a fair characterization.”

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