The Obama Purchase
Many years ago I knew a couple who adopted the habit of being gratuitously defensive about one another. If you made even the slightest comment questioning one of them in the other's presence, that party would say something such as "Watch it!" The admonition, however, would lack a certain conviction.
Not long after they were divorced.
Their earlier behavior then made sense: They couldn't accept that their marriage was in trouble. And each spouse would react defensively to even obliquely negative feedback about the other not because he knew it was false, but because he feared it was true. It validated feelings each was having about the other but desperately wanted to keep repressed.
I'm reminded of this when considering the intellectual contortions of liberals who defend Barack Obama. No, it's not perfectly analogous: liberals are driven more by political ambitions and ego than by a desire to make their "marriage" work. But the denial is similar.
A good example is a Vanity Fair piece by Todd S. Purdum. Titled "The Lonely Guy: He's a community organizer who works alone. What was once his greatest strength -- he kept his cool and didn't need feedback -- is now a liability," the subtitle says it all. The article is a somewhat tedious apologia, providing this or that example of how Obama doesn't engage people, of how Daddy Big-Guv thinks he knows best.
In justifying Obama's attitude, Purdum writes:
Self-containment is not simply Obama's political default mode. Self-possession is the core of his being, and a central part of the secret of his success. It is Obama's unwavering discipline to keep his cool when others are losing theirs....
But this quality, perhaps Obama's greatest strength in gaining office, is his greatest weakness in conducting it.
Nonsense. First, keeping your cool (at least publicly) isn't unusual for aspirants to higher office. The few thought lacking in this area, such as Bob Dole and John McCain, found it a liability come election time.
Second, Obama's greatest strength in gaining office was a servile media that suppressed every scandal and ugly truth, every sordid association, every risible mistake and radical position. It's easy being cool when nine wide phalanxes of fawning human shields stand between you and the flak, but one wonders how cool Obama would have been had he not benefitted from the regular affirmative action that got him established and the cultural affirmative action that got him elected. Of course, we'd never have known because his coolness would have been confined to passing the bong with the Choom Gang. We never would have heard of him.
Moreover, many forget that in 2008 his campaign was sometimes faulted for amateurish stumbling. The myth of Obama the Great Campaigner was manufactured after the fact.
But the myth of Obama the Nice Guy is only being questioned after the fact. As to this, Purdum writes, "Five years into their tenure, the [First] couple has a social reputation few would have envisioned when they came to town: more standoffish than the Bushes, and ruder than the Clintons."
Let me correct you, Mr. Purdum: few in your echo chamber of fawning fellow travelers would have envisioned it. Millions of people, however, had Obama's number all along. Perhaps you've heard of them. They're called traditionalists.
Cutting through the nonsense, the real explanation for Obama's "self-containment" was provided by former Obama aide Neera Tanden. Explaining her boss's refusal to call Bill Clinton, she said, "The truth is, Obama doesn't call anyone, and he's not close to almost anyone. It's stunning that he's in politics, because he really doesn't like people."
He doesn't like people.
Ponder that for a moment. It's sort of a problem because "people" are exactly who a leader has to govern. But Tanden is wrong on one point: It's not at all stunning Obama is in politics, as few politicians enter the field because they "like people." Oh, liking people -- or at least being able to fake it -- helps you succeed, and if Obama prevailed despite visible misanthropy, it is again a testimonial to the power of media manipulation. But an individual is more likely to enter politics to be lauded by people (glory), or to control people (power), or because he hates the people's handiwork (society) and wants to punish them and/or reshape them in his own image. Leaders thus disposed have had names such as Robespierre, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.
Returning to Vanity Fair writer Purdum, the reality about Obama he's struggling to reconcile is explained well by the first part of his magazine's name. After all, he also wrote, "'I think that I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,' Obama told his 2008 campaign political director, Patrick Gaspard.... 'I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that I'm going to think I'm a better political director than my political director.'" As per his subtitle, Purdum sloughs this attitude off by claiming Obama "didn't need feedback." The correct explanation is a bit different.
Obama is a self-centered, arrogant, and quite probably megalomaniacal and narcissistic -- and possibly sociopathic -- jerk.
Truth: everyone needs feedback. A good leader knows this and is wise enough to both surround himself with competent people and to separate good counsel from bad. He exhibits what Confucius spoke of when saying, "Wisdom is, when you know something, knowing that you know it; and when you do not know something, knowing that you do not know it." And Obama? He's not dumb, as some suggest, though his intelligence is overrated. It's that he doesn't know much that is true -- and, more significantly, he doesn't know what he doesn't know.
This is when even intelligent people can do profoundly stupid things. For example, Adolf Hitler, a master manipulator who could mesmerize masses, thought he knew better than his generals and was best suited to choose battlefields, strategies, and tactics on the Soviet front. Evil people, you see, tend to be ridden with that intellect-occluding thing called pride; they consequently make bad decisions and eventually sink their own ship. And if at the helm of a nation, it can be a mighty big ship they sink.
Speaking of pride, G.K. Chesterton once said, "[A] great man knows he is not God, and the greater he is the better he knows it." This is brought to mind by an interview Obama gave to Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter Cathleen Falsani in 2004. When asked if he prayed often, Obama offered this curious response: "It's not formal, me getting on my knees. I have an ongoing conversation with God. Throughout the day I'm constantly asking myself questions...."
So a "conversation with God" = "asking [himself] questions"? Literally interpreted, this means Obama considers himself God. Of course, allowing for loose talk, there's no saying the president is like an Egyptian pharaoh and actually believes he is a deity. But was his comment akin to a Freudian slip? Did it reflect not only how he is at the center of his own world, but how he naturally assumes he should be the center of the world?
Purdum, seeking to explain Obama's dysfunction -- for which he euphemistically uses terms such as "self-sufficiency" -- points out that due to parental neglect, Obama has "always been alone." But this warrants elaboration.
Children have a strong need to bond with their parents, so strong, in fact, that if a mother to whom a toddler is attached must leave him even for a time, he may cry in distress. And when a child is continually abandoned -- as Obama was by his father and, to an extent, by a mother who left him with grandparents -- the pain can be so severe that to ensure he won't be hurt again, he will keep people at arm's length and avoid bonding in the first place. In addition, he can become distrustful of others and even develop a dislike for them; after all, those who should have cared about him most broke his heart. First impressions are powerful, and this child's first experiences with "people" were bad ones.
Therapist Peter Gerlach, who specializes in "bonding wounds," had this to say about such individuals:
Such children increasingly depend on themselves to get key needs met. This becomes normal, reflexive, and unremarkable. They neither expect [n]or ask for help.
They observe how loving adults and kids behave, and become skilled at sounding and acting just like them -- but they don't feel attached, empathic, or committed.
These wounded people are often very attractive socially and professionally.
Of course, this is psychoanalysis from a distance, but it certainly would explain why Obama "really doesn't like people."
It may sound old-fashioned today, but this is why parents in ages past would try to ensure that a child's prospective spouse came from a "good family." But five years ago millions of Americans refused to look beneath the wrapper and married their nation to damaged goods. And he turned out to be an abuser who will leave nothing but damaged goods in his wake.