Saturday, July 5, 2014

Too Cool to do Presidential Stuff

As I've said before, Barack Obama is actually a cut above average if you think of him as an African President. He's definitely better than Mugabe, and probably about even with Mandela. Not quite up to Jomo Kenyatta's standard, though. But when you compare him to presidents and heads of state in general, his score goes way down. And when you think of him as an American President, which he technically is, it's hard to find any who are worse, though I'd recommend Lyndon Johnson as a possible competitor. He may have been somewhat more effective at destroying the country.

But Obama's loyalists in the press and elsewhere are doing their best to make his incompetence look like hipness. One of the reasons Bill Clinton despises Obama is that the press weren't quite as loyal to him, what with him being a White guy and everything. Bill was cool, but there's no way a redneck can ever be as cool as a cool Black guy. Even with that silly-assed saxophone.

At his blog, Had Enough Therapy?, Stuart Schneiderman considers the implications of all this hip coolness, and examines Peggy Noonan's take on it all:

Cool Hand Barack

Many who still idolize Barack Obama admire his cool. They believe it’s a sign of grace under pressure. When chaos reigns, they say, Obama stands aside, takes the full measure of the situation and makes a decisive move.

Others believe that Obama’s supposed cool means that he is in over his head. What looks like serenity is the paralysis of a deer caught in the headlights.

It is fairly obvious that Obama did not understand what being the president entailed. It is also obvious that he has been overwhelmed by the job. Worse yet, he does not know it and therefore has never brought in the kinds of seasoned political hands who could help him steer the ship of state.

In a brilliant column Peggy Noonan offers an excellent analysis of the Obama cool:

But I'm not sure people are noticing the sheer strangeness of how the president is responding to the lack of success around him. He once seemed a serious man. He wrote books, lectured on the Constitution. Now he seems unserious, frivolous, shallow. He hangs with celebrities, plays golf. His references to Congress are merely sarcastic: "So sue me." "They don't do anything except block me. And call me names. It can't be that much fun."

Interestingly, Noonan lights on a sports metaphor, only to notice that it does not really suffice to describe the Obama presidency:

This is a president with 2½ years to go who shows every sign of running out the clock. Normally in a game you run out the clock when you're winning. He's running it out when he's losing.

Noonan continues:

All this is weird, unprecedented. The president shows no sign—none—of being overwhelmingly concerned and anxious at his predicaments or challenges. Every president before him would have been. They'd be questioning what they're doing wrong, changing tack. They'd be ordering frantic aides to meet and come up with what to change, how to change it, how to find common ground not only with Congress but with the electorate.

Instead he seems disinterested, disengaged almost to the point of disembodied. He is fatalistic, passive, minimalist. He talks about hitting "singles" and "doubles" in foreign policy.

Then, she offers an interesting and convincing explanation:

Barack Obama doesn't seem to care about his unpopularity, or the decisions he's made that have not turned out well. He doesn't seem concerned. A guess at the reason: He thinks he is right about his essential policies. He is steering the world toward not relying on America. He is steering America toward greater dependence on and allegiance to government. He is creating a more federally controlled, Washington-centric nation that is run and organized by progressives. He thinks he's done his work, set America on a leftward course, and though his poll numbers are down now, history will look back on him and see him as heroic, realistic, using his phone and pen each day in spite of unprecedented resistance. He is Lincoln, scorned in his time but loved by history.

He thinks he is in line with the arc of history, that America, for all its stops and starts, for all the recent Supreme Court rulings, has embarked in the long term on governmental and cultural progressivism. Thus in time history will have the wisdom to look back and see him for what he really was: the great one who took every sling and arrow, who endured rising unpopularity, the first black president and the only one made to suffer like this.

That's what he's doing by running out the clock: He's waiting for history to get its act together and see his true size.

One might call this arrogance. One might even call it narcissism. And yet, it shows an idealistic belief that sees the world as a narrative fiction.

If you are living a fiction, you are obliged to play your role. The outcome is inevitable. If you are playing a game you can take actions that can influence the outcome.

Barack Obama believes that he is right and that everyone who does not see it his way is wrong. He does not see a need to change course, because he believes that history will vindicate him.

If history is a grand narrative whose ending is predetermined, the best Obama can do is to place himself on the right side and wait.

The other night on Megyn Kelly’s show, Lt. Col. Ralph Peters suggested that Obama could not have spent twenty years listening to the fulminations of Rev. Jeremiah Wright without some of it having rubbed off.

Surely, he is correct. And yet, I fear that there is more to it than rubbing off.

Keep in mind that Jeremiah Wright was a proponent of black liberation theology. It was an offshoot of the liberation theology developed by a former Brazilian priest named Leonardo Boff. Through his theology Boff tried to marry Catholicism and Marxism. After the Church silenced him, Boff retired from his priesthood.

If you think of the world in Hegelian or Marxist terms, you will develop a habit of thinking in terms of historical inevitabilities, or a grand narrative that is playing itself out in history. Obama seems perfectly comfortable believing that he has caught the great historical wave and that it will ultimately vindicate him.
Quibcag: I'm afraid I don't know who the girl shrugging in disinterested indifference is.


  1. She's Yui Hirasawa from K-on.

  2. Re: the quibcag, she is Yui Hirasawa from "K-On!"