For Obama, There Is No Other Truth

If any of you are like me, then you have likely been confused by many of the statements made by Democratic Party leaders in the wake of the election this past Tuesday. When I hear Nancy Pelosi say she has "no regrets" and listen to Obama's rationalization of the Republican flip as the American people simply not getting the message, I cannot help but question: How is it that they he cannot hear our message, the message American voters all but shouted at him this past Tuesday? How is it that Obama can hear our "stop spending" and interpret it as Americans simply not seeing the progress he's made? And most importantly, just what does this inability to take a hint mean for the next two years of Obama's presidency?

While predicting the future is always an uncertain prospect, it becomes much easier to draw an accurate picture if we can make comparisons to the past. And it was surprisingly easy, if slightly outside the box, to draw a connection from Obama's refusal to hear the voters' message to a well-documented phenomenon in history. Compare these two statements, the first from social psychologist Robert Cialdini's bestselling book, Influence: Science and Practice, the second from the president's November 3 press conference.
  • I've had to go a long way. I've given up just about everything. I've cut every tie. I've burned every bridge. I've turned my back on the world. I can't afford to doubt. I have to believe. And there isn't any other truth (108).
  • Question: You just reject that idea altogether that your policies could be going in reverse?
The President: Yes.

His policies cannot be wrong. There isn't any other truth. The two statements could very well have been made by the same person, despite the fact that the first was made back in the 1960s by one of the leaders of a Chicago doomsday cult. The quote was taken as part of a study conducted concerning such doomsday cults and the curious pattern of behavior that social psychologists had noted as common to all such cults, even those stretching back nearly two millennia ago. Researchers had observed that upon reaching their prophesied doomsday and finding their beliefs inevitably proven false, the members of these cults actually grew more fanatic about their faith instead of admitting their error and dispersing. They would begin campaigns of fierce evangelization, sometimes reversing longstanding policies of silence and exclusion.

Dr. Cialdini posits that the reason for this behavior is a principle he calls "social proof," which he defines as "the greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more a given individual will perceive the idea to be correct" (108). In other words, these individuals, because of the enormity of the sacrifices made for their beliefs -- often the entirety of their possessions, money, and even relationships and careers -- were incapable of admitting that their beliefs were incorrect. Thus, when stripped of the only possible proof for their beliefs, the advent of their doomsday, they instead sought to legitimize their beliefs through a different source, that of sheer numbers.

Obviously the comparison is not perfect; however, there are enough similarities to provide the foundation for a plausible prediction regarding Obama's behavior in the future. For whatever reason, President Obama, like the cultists, seems incapable of even entertaining the idea that his policies might be incorrect, even when faced with the evidence of our stagnant economy and soaring deficit. In fact, the closest the president comes to admitting error is in accepting responsibility for not getting the message of his success out clearly enough:

Over the last two years, we've made progress. But, clearly, too many Americans haven't felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday. And as President, I take responsibility for that.

Perhaps more to the point, the president also made numerous comments throughout the press conference alluding to a possible belief that it was not what he had done that was the problem, but that he had not done enough.

To continue along with this comparison, this November 2 should be considered the president's personal doomsday. He has had two years in office with the backing of a Democrat-majority Congress, two years of nearly unopposed reign in which to advance his policies and turn around the direction of the country. However, the promised economic reversal never arrived, his voter popularity is lower than ever, and even members of his own party have attempted to place a separation between themselves and his policies. More straightforward evidence that his agenda simply does not work would be hard to provide.

Obama's doomsday has arrived, then, and his imagined proof has failed to materialize. If our comparison holds true, instead of acknowledging America's rebuke, instead of compromising and moving to the middle as Clinton did in 1994, we should expect the president to simply try harder. Unlike the cultists, however, for him it is not a numbers game. Sadly, far too many people continue to believe in the president and his policies even now. No, if his statements in the post-election press conference are any indication, for President Obama, it will be about both making sure the voters hear his message properly and going far enough to make sure his policies are able to work.

However, unlike during the first two years of his presidency, Obama no longer has a Congress that will blithely pass his policies. Instead, he has a strongly Republican House elected with the mandate of repealing ObamaCare and placing an immediate stop on the spending that has characterized his administration. And while the Senate did not fall to the GOP, it is evenly enough divided as to make passing any new law a struggle. Furthermore, among many of the Democrats up for election this year, there was a singular movement away from the president, attempting to place distance between themselves and his vastly unpopular policies. It would not come as a surprise to see this movement spread into those up for reelection in 2012. In particular, in the Senate there are ten Democrats up for reelection in 2012 who either come from right-leaning states or saw their states move that way this month. If this trend of conservative popularity continues, it is highly likely that these ten senators may end up voting with the Republicans more often than not, giving the GOP an operational, if not a true, majority.

With this in mind, we can expect the next two years to be exceptionally nasty, especially when considering the president's record of antagonism towards those in opposition to his policies. If remarks such as calling Republicans "enemies" and his well-worn ditch analogies were common when he had fair sailing, just what should we expect when he actually has to contend with his political opponents in order to get anything accomplished? Much less political opponents elected with a mandate to actively oppose the very policies the president cannot accept as wrong?

We should hope and pray for a new, moderate President Obama and for cooperation between him and the new Republican-led Congress. However, at this point in time, the justification for hope seems thin.

Sirius Valentine blogs at