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October 04, 2011

SCOAMF and the Quest for Love [Domenech]

In the WSJ this morning, Bret Stephens writes of Barack Obama and love. Read the whole thing, but here's the conclusion.

What is it that Mr. Obama doesn't like about the United States—a country that sent him hurtling like an American Idol contestant from the obscurity of an Illinois Senate seat to the presidency in a mere four years?

I suspect it's the same thing that so many run-of-the-mill liberals dislike: Americans typically believe that happiness is an individual pursuit; we bridle at other people setting limits on what's "enough"; we enjoy wealth and want to keep as much of it as we can; we don't like trading in our own freedom for someone else's idea of virtue, much less a fabricated concept of the collective good.

When a good history of anti-Americanism is someday written, it will note that it's mainly a story of disenchantment—of the obdurate and sometimes vulgar reality of the country falling short of the lover's ideal. Listening to Mr. Obama, especially now as the country turns against him, one senses in him a similar disenchantment: America is lovable exactly in proportion to the love it gives him in return.

This brings to mind a quote I read recently while Obama was on his jobs tour. Compare and contrast, if you will, this story from a few weeks ago:

“A gentleman came in yesterday and started talking trash about Obama… He hired a new employee last week, so he made a comment that ‘I’ve created one new job — what has Obama done?’ ”

With this one from yesterday:

“For somebody’s who’s going to come in and be the great unifier — you know, that hopey-changey stuff — it hasn’t worked very well. The country is more divided now than it’s ever been. And he doesn’t appreciate other people and what they do.”

The first is a quote from Apex, North Carolina, from a small businessman. The second is from New York City’s Diana Taylor, Mayor Bloomberg’s girlfriend. How in the world did this SCOAMF unite them both?


Work, work your thoughts back to 2008. Republicans nominated some old guy who knew very little about the free market (and what he knew, he didn’t particularly like), staffed by a bunch of people expert at turning minor crises into full-blown race-defining events. He lost. And some of us decided Obama’s political operation was just staggering. How did they elect such a liberal guy? His campaign must be run by supergeniuses. Rahm and Axelrod would eat our lunch, Chicago-style, for eight solid years. He was surrounded by the brightest lights of progressivism. They were as staggering as Christina Hendricks in a wet t-shirt contest.

I remember sitting at dinner with one of the smartest guys I know in politics, multiple state-wide races won, asking whether there was any shot to unseat this guy after one term. “Honestly? No,” he told me, “Mostly because I don’t want to think about the amount of awful that would have to happen to the country for him to lose.”

A whole lot of SCOAMF later, here we are.

Ever since Barack Obama arrived on the national scene, a debate has run through the right about what his true nature was as a politician. What motivated this guy? Was he a true lefty believer, or was he a triangulator playing the cards he was dealt? The domestic policy said one thing, the Gitmo/interrogation policy another.

With so little to go on, many of us writing back in 2008 – myself included – overestimated his abilities and the abilities of those around him. We thought he was a more leftward-tilting Clinton or JFK, equipped with everything needed to frustrate our efforts for a decade.

Watching him now, given all these thoughts I once had, is just painful. What’s amazing is how obvious his act has become – how apparent the fraud is to most Americans, with rolled eyes and quiet laughter as if mocking a bad toupee (what’s that Orszag? Oh, we’ll get to you). Rahm’s gone, and Valerie’s running everything – well, her and a bunch of Yes Men. And now, at his most pathetic, he’s finally admitting publicly what was behind his questing political career from the get-go.

My argument from the beginning regarding Obama has been that his priority is not policy – not the wholesale remaking of American life into a progressive utopia – and that much of the talk of his formative years in leftward extremism is itself far too extreme. He is, of course, a liberal. He thinks that American capitalism is inherently unfair, yes. He thinks the mechanisms of government are better, and more ethical, than the competition of the marketplace. And he thinks America is not particularly exceptional, any moreso than other nations. But none of these are particularly radical positions for his side of the aisle. They are not his priority in life.

No, what he wants most – what he needs most – is to be loved.

A great many politicians cope or struggle with depression during their careers. One of the reasons so many successful politicians come from broken homes, and a surprising number with alcoholic or absent fathers, is the natural tendency for those who must learn to earn the affection and attention they receive from the earliest point in life to develop far more adept skills at such things later in life. But this also tends to warp your priorities as an individual – it tends to make you far more dependent on the loyal affection of those you care about, or those you don’t (when Ronnie talked about Nancy saving his soul, he wasn’t exaggerating).

In some cases, this turns men into thin-skinned lonely guys, divorced from reality. In others, it turns them into gaping maws of desire and designs, creatures equipped with abounding charm and endless appetites – see Bill Clinton or Anthony Weiner or Marion Barry or any number of other politicians, and understand there are thousands more who’ve never been caught.

In the case of this president, the affection he craves goes even further. He doesn’t appear to be satisfied in close relationships at all. He needs the swelling masses. He never loved the music – he loved the groupies, the lines of people waiting to see him, cheering him as the Adonis who turns winter into spring, as I think Jonah Goldberg put it.

And that brings us to Orszag, doubting the merits of that whole democracy experiment. And who can blame him – we're little children who don't know what's good for us. If we can’t show our love for The One, do we really deserve to pull those levers?

Of course, Orszag’s skepticism in functioning democracy is well-founded, historically (it is, after all, the worst of all forms of government, except for all the others). It tends to annoy those who are supremely confident in their own abilities to re-order society, to fix things, to fix people, and for the utopian dream of humanity to finally be fulfilled under their august rule. Maybe in Thomas Friedman’s "China for a Day".

But this concept is an illusion, just as communism without the jackboots is an illusion. It’s a concept older than the road to serfdom, and more often trod. “Planners hate to force agreement” indeed, but if they feel they must, they will – by reconciliation process, by underhanded legislative tactic, or by suspending or ignoring the laws the people passed to protect themselves from exactly this type of vile exploitation of governance. Elected office is not a right, but a privilege – even though no one elected Orszag to anything except the Hair Club for Men.

Yet there’s something deeper still than all this, beyond the utopian concepts which undergird Orszag and Friedman’s arguments, beyond the love-chasing Obama. There is doubt, incredible and heavy doubt. Not in themselves, but in the people – in the promises they have to make to get their plans passed, and in our ability to ignore them after the plan goes into effect. “This is a great great country that had gotten a little soft,” The One says, and yes, you should feel ashamed. You need him – he does not need you. Remember your Bertolt Brecht:

After the uprising of the 17th of June

The Secretary of the Writers Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

Steve Hayward wrote of Jimmy Carter as a man who ran for office promising “a government as good as the people” and ended his term by saying the people were no good. Obama is at the same point now. He needs the love, needs the cheers of the eager crowd, needs that constant affirmation – to be told he’s doing well – in order to remain confident in his ability to change the world. When we fail to deliver, he is disappointed, but unbowed. He knows that WE are the problem, and HE is the solution. “I only want the best thing for you, and the best thing for you would be me.”

And if we reject him? Well, we reject our messiah, a prophet cast out by his people, who knew not what they did. The Christ comparisons are getting more and more explicit. The pursed-lips world book tour will last until the end of days.

He is the SCOAMF he has been waiting for.

Adapted from a daily email newsletter I write, The Transom.

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