Thursday, October 28, 2010

Explaining Obama's attitude towards America

Analysts love trying to explain Barack Obama and his political ideology. Thus, we have recently had the debates over Dinesh D'Souza's thesis that The Roots of Obama's Rage lie in his anti-colonialism background. Others seek to prove that he's a socialist or a secret Muslim. Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg has just studied Obama's writing and concluded that President Obama is simply a true intellectual, a philosopher. I'm sure that that's a view that President Obama would fully endorse.

Shelby Steele today puts forth a much simpler analysis. He argues that Obama is just a typical "child of the 1960s."
His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new "counterculture" American identity. And this new American identity—and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned—is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying "otherness" but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.

Bad faith in America became virtuous in the '60s when America finally acknowledged so many of its flagrant hypocrisies: the segregation of blacks, the suppression of women, the exploitation of other minorities, the "imperialism" of the Vietnam War, the indifference to the environment, the hypocrisy of puritanical sexual mores and so on. The compounding of all these hypocrisies added up to the crowning idea of the '60s: that America was characterologically evil. Thus the only way back to decency and moral authority was through bad faith in America and its institutions, through the presumption that evil was America's natural default position.
We've addressed most of those evils of our society, but the default attitude of assuming that our country is fundamentally flawed remains. And, as Steele points out, it makes sense for liberals to ascribe to such an attitude because their preferred solution is more government to fix all the ills they perceive.
Among today's liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil—I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.

"Hope and Change" positioned Mr. Obama as a conduit between an old America worn down by its evil inclinations and a new America redeemed of those inclinations. There was no vision of the future in "Hope and Change." It is an expression of bad faith in America, but its great ingenuity was to turn that bad faith into political motivation, into votes.
This puts Obama in his preferred self-identified role - to redeem us from all that is wrong with our country. And this puts him on a collision path with those who don't see our country as fundamentally bad and needing redemption.
But there is a limit to bad faith as power, and Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party may have now reached that limit. The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America's characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity or ingenuity.

When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader. You lead out of a feeling that your opposition is really only the latest incarnation of that old characterological evil that you always knew was there. Thus the tea party—despite all the evidence to the contrary—is seen as racist and bigoted.

But isn't the tea party, on some level, a reaction to a president who seems not to fully trust the fundamental decency of the American people? Doesn't the tea party fill a void left open by Mr. Obama's ethos of bad faith? Aren't tea partiers, and their many fellow travelers, simply saying that American exceptionalism isn't racism? And if the mainstream media see tea partiers as bumpkins and racists, isn't this just more bad faith—characterizing people as ignorant or evil so as to dismiss them?

Our great presidents have been stewards, men who broadly identified with the whole of America. Stewardship meant responsibility even for those segments of America where one might be reviled. Surely Mr. Obama would claim such stewardship. But he has functioned more as a redeemer than a steward, a leader who sees a badness in us from which we must be redeemed. Many Americans are afraid of this because a mandate as grandiose as redemption justifies a vast expansion of government. A redeemer can't just tweak and guide a faltering economy; he will need a trillion- dollar stimulus package. He can't take on health care a step at a time; he must do it all at once, finally mandating that every citizen buy in.
This makes so much sense in trying to understand Barack and Michelle Obama. It explains why elites don't get the tea partiers. It explains his appeal to the young - they've been immersed in that same view of America in their college classes. And it explains why Obama will not allow himself to pivot to the center once he has to face the election results next week.

8 comments:

Stan said...

I don't think this analysis is groundbreaking. People have been saying for years that the Democrats see Americans as hate-filled, mean-spirited, racist, sexist, homophobes. Try to imagine an election campaign without slander as the Democrats' basic technique.

Obama had the most left-wing voting record in the senate during his short stay. He's a left-winger. No surprise.

Loki419 said...

I agree it should be no surprise to anyone paying attention during the run up to the last presidential election what Obama's positions are.

IF 2010 really becomes the wave election some pundits predict,should this wave of conservatisim continue for the next several years or longer, would it be fair to assign to Obama, as his legacy, the birth of the Tea Party movement?

I've heard many people posit that we had to have had a Jimmy Carter before we could have a Ronald Reagan. Wouldn't it be ironic if Obama, leftist that he is, is forever be remembered as the President responsible for awakening the conservative movement? Could we also be witness to the rapid decline of librealism,
or is that more wishful thinking?

C

pumping-irony said...

Contrary to what Obama and his leftist friends believe, most Americans don't sit up nights trying to figure out how to bring back slavery or screw the Third World or such. We have bills to pay and families to raise, and the net effect of their self-aggrandizing utopian schemes for "redemption" is to make our lives harder.

I'm sick and tired of self-styled "intellectuals" like Obama and Al Gore telling us what we have to do. I don't care WHY they do it, I don't care about their "visions" (or their hallucinations, more likely.) It is time for us, the people, to say to all of them what we should have said long ago: "SHUT UP AND GET THE HELL OUT OF MY WAY!"

Tim said...

I've got this down to well under 4096 characters, but the comment engine still complains it is too big, so here it is in two parts:

While it may not be novel, Steele's analysis hits right on target. No doubt Obama's ancestry affects his thinking (so there is probably some truth to the anti-colonial idea) but I too expect it is simply his exposure to liberal lines of thought along with his thinking that he must have an authentic "blackness" that views "whiteness" as evil. Rather than see the Federal government as the protector of our rights as laid out in the Declaration of Independence and safeguarded by the Constitution, Obama views Washington as the solution to this "evil”, one worse than the evil that outsiders would inflict upon the US. Thus, his real war is not with Iraqi or Afghan insurgents, but with everyday American people. To him, we are unenlightened and oafish at best and malignant racists at worst. When we reject his policies of big stimulus and Federal government health care mandates, he thinks it not because we thoughtfully have analyzed his plans and found them wanting, but rather that we are simply too obtuse to understand their value and need them explained to us better. To him, it's not the product, it's the salesman.

This understanding of Obama's worldview, along with his embrace of black liberation theology, perfectly explains every step this president has taken. Businesses need to serve the downtrodden public rather than Wall Street fat cats. Everyone must have health insurance because the fact that some don't have it is a consequence of economic oppression, not the logical result of personal decisions and natural free-market outcomes. Labor unions must be favored since they supposedly advance the cause of the working class rather than interfere in the fair dealing between employers and employees (and unions throw $millions of into Dem war chests). We must apologize since American foreign policy has traditionally been driven by a racist, colonialist mindset that enslaves other nations, and we forget the times America has been the salvation of Western Europe or the personal charity of tens of millions of Americans to ease suffering from disasters worldwide in far greater amounts than the rest of the world combined.

continued...

Tim said...

...Continued from prior comment

If American exceptionalism is false, then why is America the most powerful nation in the world? Dumb luck? Skill and hard work? Fortunate accidents of geography? Most people would say it is because of our principles of freedom and self-reliance combined with a Constitution that assures that our nation will be stable, providing long-term enterprises with confidence to make capital investments. Such investments generate high wages and GDP, and in turn provide us with economic and political power. Obama would agree that American economic power has created its political power, but he would ascribe that power to the exploitation of the "weak" by the "strong". He would tell us that there are oppressed and oppressors in America, and that America is an oppressor state against weaker nations, and the oppressors have enriched themselves at the expense of the oppressed, and this causes American might. He sees the giants of American industry (men like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates) not as the heroes they are for providing Americans with products that have changed their way of life so much for the better that our great-great-great-great grandparents would not recognize the world in which we live today; he sees them as oppressors who have created their wealth by enslaving American workers and consumers.

Thus, Obama's worldview leads him to believe a "fundamental transformation" of America is required. Most students of history would disagree: America is the main reason that more of the world lives in greater freedom today with a higher standard of living than at any time in world history. His misguided thinking leads to a world in which personal freedoms would be curtailed "for our own good" and overall wealth would be reduced to get "fairness". That's not the kind of transformation for which I for one am looking.

ic said...

Proof of America's evilness: the haves grasp from the have-nots. E.g. The haves took an Antoinette tour, while the have-nots worry about their non-existing jobs; the haves fly home on military jets, while the have-nots military members are denied their absentee ballots; the haves are to fly 4 jumbo jets and reside in 800 luxurious hotel rooms in India, while the unemployed children of the have-nots move back to sponge off their retirement age parents; the haves such as the Big Pharmas and the Big Insurance are guaranteed business, while the have-nots are forced to buy insurance to pay them; the haves Big Green energy are rewarded billions to work on their pipe dreams, while the have-not coal miners can't put food on the table.

Yes, America is evil, Obama and his minions are here to prove that.

Bachbone said...

There will be plenty of time for diagnosing Obama. Enough was known about him well ahead of his election to know he was far Left and ought not be allowed anywhere near the presidency. Had the GOP good ole boy ruling class elites provided a real alternative instead of McCain, he might have been defeated. The primary task now is to stop him and leftover RINOs from doing further damage to the nation, and undoing the major damage he and his merry band of socialists has already done.

princeofpeeps said...

Philosophical Theory #1: Obama's background and upbringing make him a believer in the socialist, communal theory that "it takes a village to raise a child." He and his leftie elitist socialists who know everything there is to know are the village elders, and the citizens of our nation are the children who should just shut up, listen, and do what they are told. If we will do that, everything will go just fine. Obama can smile his big smile.

Philosophical Theory #2: There all kinds of people in this world, good and bad, selfish and selfless, takers and givers, leaders and followers, type A's and type B's, etc., you get my drift. Birds of a feather flock together and form political parties.

Philosophical Theory #3: America was a caterpillar gobbling up everything in sight until we entered the ugly pupal stage, apparently in the 1960s. Now Obama is the beautiful butterfly ready to burst from the cocoon, The One we have been waiting for, that is until that evil Puxatawney Phil Tea Party saw his shadow and said it was too cold to come out yet.