Barack Obama and the Mandate of Heaven
Forget the polls, forget the focus groups, forget the media. What is occurring in the campaign of 2012 is simplicity itself: Barack Obama has lost the mandate of heaven.
We persist in the illusion (even conservatives, who should be immune to this kind of thinking) that politics is somehow a form of "rational" activity, open to "scientific" understanding and manipulation. The entire apparatus of political consultancy, polling, and analysis is based on this premise. Millions -- in recent years, hundreds of millions -- are spent on polls, meta-modeling, and God knows what else in carefully planned and executed attempts to drive the results. And yet, this methodology's record of errors and failures is virtually endless. Ronald Reagan runs double-digits behind Jimmy Carter right up to the final weekend of the 1980 campaign; the 2000 election ends up hanging on a little over 500 votes; Scott Brown easily takes a Senate seat sworn to blue since the heyday of Babylon.
There's no mystery in any of this. Human beings are not, at base, rational (they aren't irrational, either. An acquaintance of mine coined the term "arational," which seems to fit the case), and politics is a quintessential human activity. In fact, you could define humans as "animals who campaign." Operating on arational principles, voters will bounce around a lot before finally settling down. The electoral politics industry, predicated as it is on a nonexistent Cartesian voter who will vote his own interests like clockwork, is inevitably left choking on dust.
Yet the fantasy of the "scientific" political campaign endures. Political operatives continue looking for the key formula, the Standard Model that will enable them to predict results to the last absentee ballot and manipulate it as they see fit. Many think they've found it in some computer program or political-science thesis, only to be disabused at the next election, when the formula that worked perfectly last time around is ignominiously trashed by those damned voters.
Which brings us to the "mandate of heaven," one of those rare cultural concepts that has transferred almost intact from one distant civilization to another. Everybody knows what "mandate of heaven" means, which is roughly the same as what it meant to the inhabitants of China millennia ago. The mandate of heaven is a nod toward the irrational, a name for a phenomenon beyond simple analysis: how things can go suddenly, inexplicably, and completely wrong for an all-powerful figure despite the best efforts of himself and his supporters. The examples of this are endless and need not be belabored.
The truth is that it's the contemporary cutting-edge scientific view, premised as it is on a rational universe in which things happen just so, that is the fantasy, while the ancient Chinese concept represents plain, concrete realism.
A failing Chinese monarch would easily recognize Obama's current situation. Everything has started going wrong at once. Things that used to work work no longer. Plans, arrangements, allies seem to fade into the mist, tools break, weapons turn on their owners. Every light is red, every parade gets rained on.
Libya and Egypt are simply the latest manifestations (and they aren't over yet -- does anybody really think that al-Q is going to sit back and lay off the man who sends armed drones against them?). Obama has had the worst campaign summer in living memory. Much of it his own doing
First and above all, we have the economy. Employment numbers have improved solely because people who can are fleeing the workforce -- you can't possibly get worse than that. The rate for August was 8.1%, within the range that it's been pegged at for over three years. That's nearly three points higher than it was when O took office. Such figures will continue to appear right up until the election, with one set appearing just days before the polls open.
The Commerce Department announced just last week that durable goods orders fell by over 13% in August -- not a drop so much as a collapse, and an almost inevitable sign of coming recession. The second-quarter GDP number was revised downward to 1.3%, (a quarter of Russia's 4.2% GDP, as Romney points out), which can scarcely be termed "growth" at all.
In addition, we have a drought which is due to kick food prices sky-high over the next few months, along with gas exceeding $4 a gallon in much of the country -- a situation occurring not only in the midst of a recession, but also during a glut of fossil fuels. This is a situation that simply could not occur without government interference.
Obama's convention, an easy full-bases homer for any competent political machine, instead marked one pratfall after another. The sand statue featuring Obama on the new Mt. Rushmore was washed down the drain by torrential rains before the convention even began (the perfect symbol in and of itself). The decision to spite both God and Israel in the party platform, along with the bungled public vote to set it right -- that's why they had smoke-filled rooms, boys -- made for a hat trick that alienated all the religious groups the Dems need to appeal to: Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals. Obama's dull speech itself, probably the worst of his career, came at the precise moment he needed a barn-burner. While I've never bought into the myth of Obama as great speechmaker (how many memorable phrases on the level of "Never have so many owed so much...," "I have a dream...," or "Tear down this wall" has he produced? None, if I'm not mistaken.), even habitually poor speakers can come up with a workmanlike job if they have to. Consider Mitt Romney.
Foreign policy was to act as O's ace in the hole for this election, stealing the GOP's perennial issue. Instead, Libya happened, with a display of incompetence of near-criminal levels. Four Americans were murdered in one of the most ghastly situations conceivable -- at the hands of a demented mob. A mob that was furthermore instigated, supported, and probably directed by al-Qaeda-related terrorists. The administration's response to the collapse of its Middle East policy -- which means its entire foreign policy, since it has shown no interest in anything else -- has been to lie, to lie some more, and to lie on top of that, to the point where even its most fervid media supporters, among them the NYT and ABC, have begun to bail out. The administration's attempt to bury the scandal simply shifted it in time to the point where it will have the greatest impact on the campaign. Nicely played, gang.
(The Libya deaths tie in, in a very eerie fashion, with a series of deaths surrounding the Obama campaign -- the Akron diner owner who died early last July hours after receiving the touch of Obama, the young campaign staffer who inexplicably expired in the Chicago HQ a week later, the Florida police officer run down while escorting Obama's motorcade. The black angel has truly unfurled his wings over Obama this year.)
To top all this off, we have an impending war with Iran; an impending war in the South China Sea; a raging recession in Europe that threatens to spin into the collapse of the euro and with it the entire European Union; Fast and Furious; scandals in the DHS, the Pentagon, and the FCC; and the unwinding Afghan conflict, which makes the lays months of Vietnam look Napoleonic by comparison.
In light of such circumstances, the attention given to polling and trend analysis looks like nothing other than befeathered shamans shaking rattles around the fire to scare off the demons lurking out in the dark.
The modernist temptation is to ignore events as such on the grounds that they are unquantifiable, cannot be fitted into any system, and are therefore meaningless. But this is a mistake. Such events -- whether as trivial as the disintegration of O's statue or as monumental as the Benghazi terror attack -- can trigger the whirlwind. They matter. As the historian John Lukacs pointed out, they mean something because human beings think they do.
But what, precisely, they do mean is hard to say. This kind of thing is played out on a very deep level, deeper than the political and social tools available to us can reach. A level on which the leader -- president, king, or dictator -- takes on a touch of the supernatural, is transformed into an archetype, someone who, while remaining human, becomes a symbol at the same time. To say that we do not have a clear understanding as to how this works is to state the obvious.
In some ways, our understanding is not as clear as that of the ancients. In prehistoric times, a king often served only as long as his powers demonstrably remained potent. If hard times came to the tribe (or even he stayed around too long -- some kings reigned only a year), he was sacrificed to propitiate the gods and to make way for the new king. While the past is another country, we haven't changed as much as we'd like to think. A leader who fails can still be tossed into the gutter without a second thought by the very same people who were cheering madly only days before. Think of Mussolini hanging by his heels. Or of Winston Churchill, dismissed by the voters at his very peak moment -- his victory over fascism -- in one of the most colossal (and wrongheaded, as events were on to show) acts of ingratitude ever carried out by a democratic vote. Il Duce must have been laughing in Hell.
(A perfect fictional example can be found in John Huston's film version of Kipling's The Man Who Would be King, in which Danny [Sean Connery], a British soldier taken by backwoods Afghan tribesmen to be a god, is proven all too mortal when his terrified native bride draws blood from him. He is then dragged out and tossed into an abyss, falling, so his unfortunate partner [Michael Caine] puts it, "for miles and miles." This picture ought to be required viewing for anyone vying for national leadership.)
Barack Obama has already had the great misfortune (though he probably didn't think so at the time) of being proclaimed a superhuman entity, one with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal humans. Those powers have been seen to fail, and they are now failing on the most primal level. Everything he touches, whether in North Africa or Charlotte, collapses. His plans misfire, his tools turn to rust, the people who encounter and work for him simply die off. The archetypes are ganging up on Obama. He may well be in more trouble than he, pure secular rationalist as he is, can even begin to imagine.
That's the Obama story. We will see how it plays out over the coming weeks.
J.R. Dunn is senior editor at American Thinker.