Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Anti-Truman Show Ends Its 8 Year Run

As a general rule, I’ve tried to shy away from making blog posts about the character flaws I perceive in leaders from the other side of the political spectrum.  At the end of the day, as I stated here in my “I’m not a fan of Trump, but” post, most people treat the personal details, foibles, faults etc. as secondary to said candidate’s alignment with their own policy preferences.  But in addition to that, when you point out objectively the character flaws of a politician from the other tribe, said tribe is more likely to acknowledge such flaws as a strength because they serve the aims of their particular tribe.  Democrats probably know Harry Reid was a vindictive dishonorable liar, but he was their vindictive dishonorable liar, and employing his assholeness on behalf of their causes served them well.  Being an asshole was his greatest political quality.  I call this the Pete Rose effect – I hated Pete Rose sprinting to first base when he got walked while a member of the Reds, but surely loved every minute of it when he was doing it for the Phils. One’s assessment of Pete Rose was not determined by objective consideration of what you liked or disliked about him as a player - it was driven by whether he was on your team or not.  (If that’s too dated, think of Christian Laettner – Duke fans love him best precisely because Duke haters hate him most.) 

But here I am going to make an exception to discussing my personal perceptions of Obama.  In my prior “not a fan of Trump” post, I pointed out that those things that seemed to concern so many liberals about Trump were equally if not doubly true for Hillary or Bill.  One thing I did not address was Trump’s narcissistic egomania, which I freely concede.  But now with Obama just a couple days away from leaving office, I’d like to make the same point again – no liberal can appeal to me that Trump’s narcissism by itself is objectively a troubling fact that should worry me – they’ve lost credibility on that issue  because they clearly suffer from the Pete Rose Effect.  How do I know this?  Because, while Trump may one day prove to eclipse Obama in the category of narcissistic egomania, for the last eight years Obama blew away any prior record for such among American presidents, and rather than that concerning liberals, they’ve simply fed Obama’s delusional self-regard.

Remember the Jim Carey movie called the Truman show? Where Jim Carey’s character is the only one who doesn’t understand he is part of a reality TV show faithfully followed by hundreds of millions of viewers.  Every person in Carey’s life is a character actor in the story of his life, and he is the only one not in the know.  He is the only authentic person in his own life, surrounded by actors playing his wife, parents, kids, and best friend, all of them acting out a script.  Truman’s life, unbeknownst to him, goes in a direction only partially determined by his own actions, as the show’s writers constantly adjust his environment to enhance the potential drama of the show.

The Obama presidency is like the Anti-Truman Show – apparently every living person is at best a bit character in his life story (if they are lucky), while we mistakenly harbor the illusion that we are living lives that are significant on their own and independent from his place and time in history.  We’ve known since Shakespeare that all the world’s a stage and we are merely players, but we never really knew that our particular show was all about Obama until he came along.  Lucky for us, as those who came before and those will come after are just the build-up and the denouement of the story.  Like Truman, our lives were only partially in our own hands, and we needed Obama as the script writer to set the story in the right direction, to get us on the “right side of history,” as he is fond of saying.  Before he arrived we were doomed to always be on the wrong side of history.  Not coincidentally, the wrong side of history is tautologically defined as disagreement with Obama over, well, just about anything. 

If you harbor the illusion that you are not part of the Anti-Truman Show, it is likely only because he hasn’t yet graced you as a live extra in the show, or otherwise made your part clear.  Take Indonesia, for example.  The entire country was mired in obscurity, not connected to any reality TV show worth watching, and especially not the Anti-Truman show, until Obama made a state visit and recounted his time there.  Imagine the joy of an entire country learning from his speech their importance in the Show, as the visit to their country was formative in his early years.  The only historical parallel perhaps, and I think Obama would be the first to allow that no other parallel would do, would be the residents of Bethlehem just going about their business day to day 2000 plus years ago only to find out 40 years later that the risen Christ was born in Bethlehem.  Suddenly on the world map of history!  Take that Judea, always looking at us Bethlehemians as backwater hicks!

If you google “Obama self references in speeches,” you get 181,000 hits in 0.69 seconds – imagine if you gave Google a whole minute to search!  And lest you think the endless personal story telling of Obama is a mere right wing smear, recently the Washington Post published an article calling Obama’s presidency the “self-referential presidency.”  From the Washington Post article:

“Throughout Obama’s time in the White House, his touchstone would not be that singular country on Earth, whose politics he was never able to bind together. Rather, it would be the man himself. My story. This was a presidency preoccupied with Obama’s exceptionalism as much as with America’s.”

The author says that in the abstract the “personalized presidency can be inspiring,” but also concedes that it can “feel arrogant.”  Gee, ya think?  And notice the use of “feel” rather than “be” – presumably those of us on the wrong side of history can understandably mistakenly feel that his approach is arrogant, which is clearly not the same thing as saying that it is arrogant.  But, objectively, it is arrogant. 

The article points out that Obama called himself a “prisoner of his own biography” in one of his several autobiographical books.  For eight years, the prisoner had taken us all hostage inside the same prison.  His only professional accomplishment prior to his political career, and indeed the launching pad for his political career, was his autobiography.  An autobiography of a man with no accomplishments to speak of became his accomplishment to speak of. 

At the time he wrote his autobiography his life was remarkable in no sense.  But man what it has turned into since is truly remarkable – it is like a Ponzi scheme that continued to work.  There was no remarkably significant obstacle overcome.  He grew up as the child of a single Mom in a free country in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and as compared to so many other kids of single parents who grew up in poverty, he grew up in secure financial conditions.  There was no rags to riches, no major objective obstacles to a fruitful life except in his own overwrought imagination.  Perhaps the only truly amazing fact about his early life is that his ego remained fully in tact despite being a 6’4” black guy who couldn’t get a starting position on a high school basketball team filled with Hawaiians.    

One fictional achievement led to a grander fictional achievement, which led to yet even grander fictional achievements.  As a self-proclaimed constitutional scholar, who never published a scholarly article on anything having to do with the constitution (or anything for that matter), he wrote an autobiography that launched him to an Illinois state senate seat, where, despite abstaining from most votes, he launched himself to a US Senate seat, where, despite authoring no significant legislation, he wins the Presidency, where, despite presiding over the worst post-WWII recession recovery, alienating traditional allies and emboldening clear enemies, and breezily ignoring scandals at the IRS, the VA, the State Department, and the DOJ, he waltzes out of the White House patting himself on the back so vigorously that he risks separating his shoulder.   

In his 2008 campaign, he famously declared himself the “one we’ve been waiting for,” although I don’t recall waiting for anyone.  But apparently some people were waiting for someone.  Turns out it was him, although here we are 8 years later and it’s hard to understand why people were waiting for someone to hand the middle east over to Russia and Iran, with nukes and an airplane full of ransom cash for the mullahs in Iran to boot in exchange for … well, that’s not clear exactly, now is it?  But maybe we were waiting for a fiscally unsustainable healthcare takeover that is predictably imploding.  And all the while, you’ve bought the story hook, line, and sinker. 

I know your concern – it is this – that there will be a rabid Trump following that, no matter what objective failures one can point to in his administration, will faithfully defend him and argue that anyone other than him would have made it worse.  And in so doing, that rabid following may only perpetuate his delusions of grandeur and the policy mistakes that go with it.  All I can say is, been there done that, and I know your pain.

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