Steve Chapman: Obama and the Virtues of Inaction


Pete Souza / White House

In responding to the Ebola crisis, President Barack Obama is being his usual self: passive, detached, unable or unwilling to lead. So say his critics, who accuse him of being an idle observer of his own presidency.

Idleness in the Oval Office is not necessarily a vice. What Obama displays in this episode are not his worst qualities but his best ones. In refusing to succumb to the demands for showy action, he is dampening emotions that others exploit for political convenience. He is insisting on rational responses to a danger that preys on primal fears, writes Steve Chapman.

In many ways, that's a sound approach. But it can be a handicap in a media environment biased toward big, visible choices, even if they are largely symbolic or self-defeating. Longtime adviser David Axelrod told Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "There's no doubt that there's a theatrical nature to the presidency that he resists."

The safety of modern American life makes many people yearn for excitement and danger. With crime falling sharply, life expectancy rising, the specter of all-out nuclear war relegated to history and homeland terrorism nearly nonexistent, things can feel so placid as to be boring. So some of us look for ways to liven up our existence, according to Chapman.