Friday, September 12, 2008

The Blank Screen President

In May of 2007 Barack Obama made an odd gaffe:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Barack Obama, caught up in the fervor of a campaign speech Tuesday, drastically overstated the Kansas tornadoes death toll, saying 10,000 had died.

The death toll was 12.

"In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died—an entire town destroyed," the Democratic presidential candidate said in a speech to 500 people packed into a sweltering Richmond art studio for a fundraiser.

He blamed the error on being tired, but ask yourself: at your weakest moment, would you mistakenly exaggerate a death toll of 12 to 10,000?

There is a deeper explanation. Barack Obama's habitual way of thinking does not focus first on the facts, but on other people's emotional reaction to what he is saying. He was so focused on the effect of his story that, like a fiction writer, he made up the fact he needed for that effect.

He has described himself variously as a "rorschach test" and a "blank screen" on which people project what they want to see. Always with Obama his primary focus is on what other people think. The reactions of other people guide him as he speaks -- and facts are malleable things that can be made to fit the needs of the moment.

Obama is greatly feared on the right as a crypto-socialist who is acting moderate to gain power. This is possible, but I don't think it is the fundamental explanation of his character. His radicalism in the past has been the result of being surrounded by radicals. In liberal Chicago, he did what was needed to rise in the Chicago political machine. He reflects back to people what they want to see. If anything, Obama's far-left positions show how far the Democrats in general have moved to the left.

He has shown an astonishing ability to flip-flop on his positions. On issue after issue, he has changed his mind, as if his principles and positions are of secondary importance to what the voters want to hear. Recently, he even admitted that the surge had worked.

Look at the way he soaks up adoration when he speaks before large crowds. For a social metaphysician like Obama, in which metaphysical importance lies not primarily in the facts of reality but in what other people think, the adoration of the masses must be something like a peak experience. It doesn't get better than that.

His speaking technique has been shaped by his psychological orientation to reality. He speaks in sonorous, idealistic phrases -- that have no substance. His empty rhetoric about change we can believe in is meant to emotionally move the crowd of the moment without further meaning.

I suspect that Obama's epistemology -- and his popularity among the young -- is the product of American educational theory. John Dewey's progressive education seeks to socialize students. It emphasizes getting along. It produces people who are not independent thinkers, but who want to go along with the crowd. But Obama's thinking could be just the way he developed himself, regardless of schooling. Man is a being of self-made soul, after all.

It looks like the Democrat primary voters chose Obama because he is capable of inspiring oratory and because he is black. Had the media "vetted" Obama the way they do Republicans, he never would have survived the primaries. But the media, being on Democrats' side, have not done them a favor by going easy on Obama in the primaries. The presidential campaign is a long endurance trial, and with talk radio and the internet, the Democrat is bound to be tested even if the MSM favor him.

Here is the greatest irony about Obama. If he were elected, his administration would change nothing. The word he campaigned on would be his last consideration. What does a blank screen reflect when he is inside the beltway? He reflects the inside of the beltway. Business as usual would be the theme of Obama's presidency. The conventional wisdom at the State Department would be his foreign policy. The conventional wisdom among Democrat economists would be his domestic policy. Obama would be a servant, enacting policies others tell him to do.

But Obama would also try to appease and go along with Republicans -- who are, despite what the moonbats might think, people too. An Obama presidency could very well end up like Bill Clinton's: an initial push for socialism and big government, disastrous failure by mid-term, then being pushed around by Republicans for the rest of his time in office. This, folks, is the best-case scenario.

Of course, the world is a dangerous place, and the next presidency will likely be shaped by events from abroad. Militant Islam is at war with us, Russia is aggressive, and there are many others enemies around the world just waiting for a sign of American weakness before they make their move. With Obama, the question to ask is not, "How would Obama react," but "How would the Democrat foreign policy establishment react?" The establishment would tell Obama how to react.

Really, in electing Obama we are electing the generic Democrat. In this case the generic has a name; it has little else.


Michael Neibel said...

You're right about Obama's anti-conceptual mentality. Most on the left don't use words to convey ideas but rather to evoke certain emotions. Conversly, as you point out, emotions with which he he is confronted will evoke from him certain words to sooth and comfort, to appease and fit in. The meaning of those words? To him they don't have any meaning. They are just tools of social intercourse.

Anonymous said...

I'm very hesitant to read into Obama things that aren't supported by his words and platform. It is tempting to write him off because of his platitudes and his singsong speechifying. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted you to think of him as "generic Democrat."

Read his platform. He's got something in there for everyone and it's not milquetoast platitudes. You've already covered his seriousness about service. If he's elected, he's not going to just sit there and the Democrats in Congress aren't going to make him give speech after speech there while they weep. He's going to get some amount of his programs passed and he means it.

What's more, he's going to surround himself with the most liberal advisors, secretaries, and appointments. If he doesn't personally get much of his program enacted by Congress (a big if), then he will enact it by fiat thanks to the pioneering efforts of Bush.

And these programs, like all of the ones put forth in the past, aren't going away anytime soon. I understand the motivation to sit this one out: there's really no difference in their rhetoric and barely a difference in their platforms. But, and this is a big but, McCain won't see half of his come to fruition with a Democratic Congress--and there's some indication that he might cut some spending through the veto. That's enough for me from a tactical standpoint.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and boffo job on the analysis of Obama as social metaphysician. Spot on!

Anonymous said...

This is some of the best analysis of Obama I've seen so far, and deserves to be widely publicized.


Unknown said...


Am I reading the phrase "best-case scenario" correctly?

Are you saying that that an Obama victory is the best-case scenario in this election, given that your characterization of him is correct?

Or do you mean that in the event of an Obama victory, the scenario you describe would be the best possible?

Please advise. Thanks.

P.S. I'd like to echo NS and say that this is really, really good stuff!

Mike said...

Myrhaf's ongoing thesis here on his blog has been that an Obama presidency is a best-case scenario because he will be ineffective at advancing his socialist-statist goals, while McCain will likely be fairly effective at advancing his nationalist-statist goals.

I have my doubts at just how ineffective Obama will be with all three branches of government in his pocket, but the divisions within the Democratic Party that were once again making news last week suggest that Myrhaf's hypothesis may end up closer to the true outcome than mine.

Myrhaf said...

Thanks for the compliments, all. Mark, I mean that if Obama were elected, that would be the best case scenario. But it probably would be the best case scenario overall, as I don't think McCain would be better and would probably be worse.

John Lewis recently sent an email to Obloggers with the following information:

In July the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which details their plan to force Americans to reduce emissions of CO2 and other so-called “greenhouse gases.” This follows on an Executive Order signed by President Bush, which was made possible by a U.S. Supreme Court decisions ruling that CO2 is a “pollutant.” (!)

This plan will strip the American people of their freedom, and place them under the control of a single, all-powerful, federal agency. Industrial permits, furnace regulations, auto emissions testing, building permits, transportation, and food production—all will fall under the boot of the EPA. Environmentalists will use lawsuits to pressure the EPA to tighten an ever-shrinking noose around the neck of every American.

This is the first I had heard of Bush signing such an Executive Order. Had Bush been a Democrat, I think right-wing radio would be all over this story, sounding the alarm. Instead, nothing. This disconnect makes me think we need a Democrat president because when the Republicans destroy our freedom, no one cares. The Democrats don't mind and the Republicans are too busy attacking liberals. A Democrat president would clarify things a lot.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the clarification!

Anonymous said...

This supports a point I made earlier on this blog; Obama's intellectual emptiness means that the character of his presidency will be determined to a much greater extent than usual, by the ideas and goals of his cabinet and immediate entourage of advisers.

It reminds me of how Senator Palpatine was described in the book version of "Star Wars", printed before any sequels were planned:

So it was with the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.

"Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.

"Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.

In that scenario, the ones to be feared are the lackeys who will work through the feckless Obama to achieve their own goals.

Myrhaf said...

I'll buy that analogy -- as long as no one calls McCain and Palin Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

Anonymous said...

"Obama's intellectual emptiness means that the character of his presidency will be determined to a much greater extent than usual, by the ideas and goals of his cabinet and immediate entourage of advisers."

This might indicate a vote against Obama. His advisers and entourage are likely to consist of the Cornel West's of the world. This is the best argument against voting Democrat, namely the Cabinet members, Department heads and Alphabet Commission bosses will be hard Left, American hating monstrosities. They can do alot of damage.

John Kim

Anonymous said...

Imagine Al Gore as EPA Administrator. *shudder*

Peter Cresswell said...

Brilliant observation, Myrhaf, and very well made.