Have you ever had an obnoxious television show character’s behavior remind you of a time when you similarly behaved like a jerk? And even now, years later, your behavior still makes you blush?
That is precisely what I feel watching our president’s post-election press conferences and interviews. Even after the nation clearly rejected his agenda, Barack Obama continues to insist that he did nothing wrong — he simply failed to make the country understand that whatever he did was “the right thing.” In his mind, the rejection was the result of a misunderstanding — an error of perception — and he now sincerely promises to “listen hard” to the people in the future.
Obama has caused me to experience unwelcome flashbacks, remembering how teenage me lied to members of the opposite sex — claiming I shared their values — in order to score a date. When the lies didn’t work, I convinced myself that I hadn’t been persuasive enough. In the future, I needed to apply even more effort to make them understand that I was entitled to be their date. I promised to “listen hard,” I promised whatever. The end justified the means.
At that age, nothing seemed inappropriate. My hormone-infused brain knew no distinction between right and wrong, and “doing the right thing” meant going wherever my hormones would take me, and then making it sound as if it were “the right thing.” When the girl was wise enough to reject my advances, my mouth automatically generated a million other plausible, albeit contradictory, reasons why such a rejection was merely the result of an incorrect perception. The only thing missing in that narrative was that I was a complete jerk, devoid of self-awareness, blind to reality, and deaf to others’ feelings.
With time, I learned to be more careful and stopped blaming the fair sex for failure to understand my good intentions due to their lack of intelligence, attention, or both. I also figured that blaming others for mischaracterizing me behind my back was a bad strategy. I mastered the “humble” act — not because I grew wiser; I simply became a more skilled liar.
I couldn’t help but recognize this trick when the president admitted that he was guilty — yes, guilty — for not being able to speak more clearly. But he tried! No one can deny that he tried to be clear. In the last year alone, he started 50% of his sentences with the interjection “let me be clear.” Perhaps, the tragic miscommunication could have been avoided if he had used this interjection 75% of the time, and maybe in the next year he will do a better job, increasing its usage to 100% of his sentences, while speaking slower and louder.
This time, unlike many times in the past, the president seemed very careful not to blame Americans for failing to understand him, and neither did he blame the media for mischaracterizing his actions. He is learning. He has mastered the “humble” act.
I spent my college years in the USSR and had to attend a number of classes on Marxist science. One pleasant September afternoon, right after a lecture on Marxist philosophy, I was sitting on a park bench with a female student from a parallel class. I quoted the important work by Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, trying to convince her that if the Soviet society had really been organized according to Marxist principles, we would all be having free unlimited sex.