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.
I told her that the current social taboos and limitations stemmed from the old bourgeois era, when relationships between people were determined by the ownership of property held by a family, which necessitated a strict monogamy. It was a shame, I remember saying, that in our supposedly more progressive Soviet society, where private property was no longer a burden and where goods were distributed among people by the government, we still continued to be oppressed by the archaic sexual taboos instead of having a free redistribution of intimate favors.
If it’s true that the human mind is a social construct, I said, then the above taboos were nothing but changeable perceptions past expiration date. Boundaries on human intimacy had no place in modernity, where perceptions of right and wrong were subject to change along with the socio-economic formation. And since everything was a matter of perception, any wrong could easily become a new right if only someone would give history an overdue nudge. And if someone must do this historic nudge, why not us? If not us, who? If not now, when? This was clearly an idea whose time had come.
She looked me in the eye and said: “I have no idea what you told me, but if you want to do it, let’s go to my dorm.” She wasn’t much of a theoretician. We remained friends for a while, and then forgot about each other’s existence as easily and uneventfully as we met. When the only things you have in common are the hormones, there’s not much left to keep you together after your biochemistry undergoes a change.
I wonder how many American voters had elected Obama, not because they shared his theories or understood any of his hope and change rhetoric, but simply because they shared the same political hormones. Perhaps the number of voters with the hormone-impaired thinking can roughly be calculated by taking the amount of votes for Obama in 2008 and subtracting the much smaller amount of Democratic votes in 2010. Easy come, easy go.
I know how American liberals feel. Most of my Ukrainian girlfriends in my younger years must have been archetypal conservatives, while my endocrinal excesses made me an untrainable liberal. I thought I had their mandate, I didn’t listen, I pushed my agenda, and they voted me out of their lives. It pains me to think how much, in those shameless days, I sounded like Barack Obama at his recent press conference. I can only hope that the objects of my affection weren’t as queasy listening to me as I am now when I turn on the TV. If they can hear me now, I sincerely hope they will accept my apologies for being a fool.
In my defense, I was young, immature, and running on pure hormones. I still don’t know if my growing wiser was the result of life lessons or of the changes in my endocrine glands. But being rejected did teach me this: pretense doesn’t work in the long run. To have a healthy relationship, you must be honest with yourself and your partner. And if the real you is not what your partner wants, pretending to be someone else will make neither of you happy. Inventing stories about shared values in order to prolong a bogus relationship is pathetic.
I wish I had known this in my teens, but I’m not sure this knowledge could have had any impact at a time when my mind was blinded by immature fantasies, and my sophomoric biochemistry conditioned my internal speech processing system to generate wild stories and to come up with any plausible excuse to make the fantasy come true.
While I recognize these teenage traits in Obama when he talks to the nation, I can’s help but notice that he is actually a grown man. What kind of hormone possesses him to his detriment at his age? And what kind of fantasies does he have about himself and America that he is so desperate to fulfill?
Right before the election, scientists at the University of California-San Diego had discovered that a specific kind of gene, a dopamine receptor known as DRD4-7R, when combined with a social environment is associated with liberal political ideology. Could this explain why our president acts like a hormone-crazed teenager, devoid of self-awareness, blind to reality, and deaf to other people’s feelings?
Whether this is the case or not, I do hope that somewhere in the White House there exists an adult — perhaps not even at the top, that would be too much to ask, but more likely a driver, a cook, or a cleaning lady — who will confront Obama with the harsh truth:
Barack, the country is just not into you. Take it like an adult. You’re a 49-year-old man, dammit!