A History of 'Visibly Angry' Obama

When President Obama shows emotion, people notice.

Photograph By: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Despite appearing calm in public, a “visibly angry Mr. Obama” is seething over the poor handling of the Ebola crisis, according to a report from The New York Times on Friday. 

“It’s not tight,” Obama said during a meeting with aides, according to Times sources, who also leaked that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were among the targets of the president's ire. (Whether Obama meant “tight” in the sense of the early-aughts slang word or as a reference to the effort's cohesiveness, he’s correct.)

This is the latest entry in the long history of the angry-Obama description relayed by the press, offered by his aides or articulated by the man himself. Other politicians can and do get “visibly angry,” but not everyone has a reputation for being devoid of emotion. Obama has long been characterized as cold and aloof, so when he does try to paint a different picture, people tend to take notice — even after six years of watching the president get upset by understandably upsetting events, like nurses catching Ebola.

Dec. 7, 2010: One of the first visibly angry moments of Obama’s presidency happened in late 2010, when the president responded to liberal critics of his compromise with Republicans to extend the Bush tax credits. “The image of a visibly irritated — if not outright angry — Obama was a stunning contrast to cool, calm and collected persona that he has long cultivated,” Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post wrote.

President Obama leaves a press conference on the budget deficit in 2011.
President Obama leaves a press conference on the budget deficit in 2011.
Photograph By: Alex Wong/Getty Images

July 22, 2011: When talks between the president and House Speaker John Boehner on the deficit broke down about a week before the government was set to hit the debt limit, no one was more unhappy than the president, to hear onlookers tell it. Obama gave a press conference that day that forever set the bar for visible anger.

“A visibly angry President Obama … demanded that Congressional leaders come to the White House on Saturday morning,” The Times reported, a characterization The New Yorker dissected later. “A visibly angry Obama criticized Republicans’ opposition to tax increases, saying that was the reason for the breakdown,” wrote The Daily Caller. The New Republic noted that the most shocking part of the press conference was Obama’s tone, and the fact that he “seemed visibly angry with” Boehner.

Nov. 11, 2012: A close second for angriest angry Obama might be when Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain said that then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice wasn’t qualified to be secretary of State because of comments she made after the Benghazi attacks. Obama was not having it and was “visibly angry,” according to The Atlantic and Breitbart. New York Magazine was slightly less convinced, and wrote that Obama “flashed what was either genuine anger or a convincing imitation of it.”

President Obama during a press conference on the failed gun background checks bill in 2013.
President Obama during a press conference on the failed gun background checks bill in 2013.
Photograph By: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

April 17, 2013: When the Senate blocked an expansion of background checks while the families of the Newtown school shooting victims watched, it was another reminder for the administration that compromise with Congress could be a pipe dream. From The Daily Beast: “A visibly angry President Obama, reacting to the defeat of an exceedingly modest gun control measure, called it ‘a pretty shameful day for Washington.’” Time Magazine went with “stoned faced and curt,” which is a less lazy way to say visibly angry.

May 15, 2013: Sometimes the press doesn’t take the bait, and the president has to tell them that he’s angry. This is a tactic usually reserved for political scandals that could hurt the administration. When Obama addressed the IRS scandal, he said “it's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it.” 

Nov. 14, 2013: Or his aides tell the press. When the glitchy black hole called Healthcare.gov “launched,” Obama was forced to admit either he wasn’t following its progress closely enough or that he built a bad site. He said he didn’t know the site wouldn’t work, but was mad that it didn’t. “As the story of the Obamacare website fiasco unfolds, senior administration aides tell me that the President is ‘mad, frustrated and angry,’” wrote CNN’s Gloria Borger. The fact that those three words mean more or less the same thing only amplified the sentiment.

Angry Obama descriptions also work for photo captions. Here, "an angry President Barack Obama" discusses immigration reform in June 2014.
Angry Obama descriptions also work for photo captions. Here, "an angry President Barack Obama" discusses immigration reform in June 2014.
Photograph By: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

May 18, 2014: There’s “mad as hell,” the actual phrase, and then there’s the anger that is said to overtake you when veterans' hospitals are falsifying records on your watch. “The president is madder than hell, and I’ve got the scars to prove it, given the briefings that I’ve given the president,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Oct. 18, 2014: David Axelrod, a former advisor to the president, explained why it helps Obama to look as upset as he feels. “Part of the challenge is to be assertive, to be in command, and yet not feed a kind of panic that could easily evolve here,” he told The Times. “It’s not enough to doggedly and persistently push for answers in meetings. You have to be seen doggedly and persistently pushing for answers.” 

If the angry-Obama routine has been any indication over the years, looking pissed helps, too.

Also on Bloomberg Politics: Are You Overly Concerned About Ebola? Four Case Studies

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE