Opinion

Clarence Page: Obama’s new ‘bucket’ attitude

President Barack Obama speaks as his translator, played by Keegan-Michael Key, gestures at the White House Correspondent's Association Gala at the Washington Hilton hotel in Washington, D.C., on April 25.
President Barack Obama speaks as his translator, played by Keegan-Michael Key, gestures at the White House Correspondent's Association Gala at the Washington Hilton hotel in Washington, D.C., on April 25. Abaca Press/TNS

One of the most ironic things about U.S. presidents is how soon after they get comfortable with the job that it’s over.

That’s a happy thought to those who can’t wait to see President Barack Obama go — as the ranks of hopeful Republican candidates grow well past a dozen.

But the president’s attitude? “Bucket.”

That’s what he said with a shrug, you may remember, during his comedic speech at this spring’s White House Correspondents dinner, broadcast live on C-SPAN.

“After the midterm elections, my advisers asked me, ‘Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?’ “ he mockingly recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.’”

As the audience laughed, the president clarified: “Take executive action on immigration? Bucket! New climate regulations? Bucket! It’s the right thing to do….”

Flash forward and, with tongue only slightly in cheek, it is easy to view recent days as the Bucket Period of the Obama presidency.

You could hear it, for example, in his blunt rebuke of a heckler who was trying to shout him down at a White House reception.

“Hey, listen, you’re in my house,” he said, clearly annoyed. “… You’re not going to get a good response from me by interrupting me like this….”

“As a general rule, I am just fine with a few hecklers,” the president continued, lightening up a bit. “But not when I’m up in the house. My attitude is if you’re eating the hors d’oeuvres … and drinkin’ the booze. … I know that’s right. Anyway, where was I?”

Although few news reports media mentioned it, the heckler happened to be Jennicet Gutierrez, an undocumented transgender Latina activist — a minority group if ever there was one.

Writing later in the Washington Blade, she said she was trying to protest the administration’s detention of other undocumented gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender immigrants. That’s a worthy cause. But is it worthy enough to interrupt the president in a White House ceremony? As Obama might say, bucket.

Or as comedian Robin Thede said in a skit on Comedy Central’s “Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” it’s all part of Obama’s “second biggest initiative” besides Obamacare: “Obama Don’t Care.”

Well, let’s allow that Obama does care, but he’s being choosy about what he cares about. He appeared to have grown his own new layer of Teflon after his surprising alliance with Republicans (and against many unions) managed to get his fast-track trade authority through Congress.

And any offense in the gay community after Obama’s rebuke of Gutierrez’ interruption probably evaporated in the celebrations that followed the Supreme Court’s nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage.

And that came a day after the high court rescued the president’s Affordable Care Act for the second time. Republican opposition? Bucket.

Obama’s new level of comfort also showed itself after he mentioned the N-word during an otherwise unexceptional interview with Marc Maron’s podcast “WTF.”

“Racism,” Obama said, “we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘n––-’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.” Mentioning the N-word is a presidential first – in public, anyway. But Obama don’t care. Not unless you’re also willing to deal with more serious problems with racism.

Which is precisely what the president faced at the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine African-Americans fatally shot allegedly by a white racist in an evening Bible class in Charleston, South Carolina.

Delivering at least his 12th speech after a mass shooting, according to the Washington Post’s count, he departed from his famously eloquent speaking style to lead the minister and crowd in a spontaneous rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The surprising move came at precisely the right time to lift spirits locally and nationwide after the horrendous national tragedy.

By the end of the week, a CNN/ORC poll reported, Obama’s approval ratings had inched up to 50%, his highest in that poll since 2013. He’s still got a year and a half left in office and more deeply contentious issues to tackle. But like numerous others who came before him, he appears to be getting comfortable with the job — before he hands it over to somebody else.

Clarence Page is a Tribune Content Agency columnist. Email: cpage@tribune.com.

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