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Belmont Club

Disillusion

May 30th, 2009 - 10:56 pm

Ted Rall writing in State Journal Register has an extended piece calling Barack Obama a monster. Glenn Reynolds notes the tut-tutting from other sites to the effect that “if Obama’s lost Ted Rall, he’s lost un-America.” Rall essentially rails against what he believes is a wholesale betrayal by President Obama of his most cherished principles.

We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through. …

Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now — before he drags us further into the abyss.

I refer here to Obama’s plan for “preventive detentions.” If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in “prolonged detention.” Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama’s shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, and also kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about-terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK.

One wonders what principles the eminent cartoonist is referring to. Was it because Mr. Rall was promised something for nothing and is now surprised that there’s no free lunch. Was it surprise that someone who could be dishonest to others would be less than honest to him?  Was it shock at his own judgement, because Rall proceeds, without realizing it, to impugn his own discernment along with the character of the candidate he voted for. “Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed George W. Bush, I won’t follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power.”

It’s a logical mess and one hopes that Mr. Rall could re-examine his thread of reasoning from the beginning. Review why he thought Mr. Bush was a “terrible leader”, because he seems to have chosen the perceived opposite and now regrets it. Ask himself why he should think that conservatives would follow a leader over a cliff when by implication he did the exact same thing? Recall how Mr. Obama came into power, if Mr. Rall didn’t help put him there.  Ask himself why, if Mr. Obama were a monster, he would bother to remove himself from power instead of clinging to it with every means at his disposal?

Then we learn a piece of information which almost explains it all. Mr. Rall has been laid off. Editor and Publisher reports:

“I’ve been laid off,” reads the headline on the blog of cartoonist Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Rall, an editorial cartoonist for Universal Press Syndicate, has served as editor of acquisitions and development at United Media for the past two years. “My job was finding new talent — comic strip artists, columnists and writers of puzzles — to syndicate to newspapers,” Rall writes on his blog. “Considering the circumstances, I enjoyed remarkable success. … I am proud of what I accomplished.”

Transterrestrial Musings delivers a kick to Rall while he’s down. “It’s actually a sign of how good the economy has been for the last several years that a talentless hack like him could make a living in it.” Meaning that Rall had a job under George W. Bush and he ain’t got one now. Personally I think that the assumption that one was a function of the other is at the core of Rall’s disillusion. Perhaps the phrase “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you,” is a phrase that Mr. Rall misunderstood by taking it at face value. In the coming days, in areas ranging from the economy to foreign affairs to national security, how many people will confess themselves to being as they say, the last to know?

Update

The defects in Ted Rall’s reasoning conceal a genuine problem: can there be any agreed-upon basis for judging Barack Obama? In other words, does there exist a bright line past which both conservatives and liberals can agree that failure or success lies?

To some extent, Rall’s lay-off constitutes one such line. People whose pockets are empty can usually agree things aren’t going so good, whatever their political persuasions. Foreign policy and national security criteria are a little more tricky, because since World War 2 foreign policy failures have had no direct impact on domestic security, with the exception of 9/11. But it’s safe to say that if one or several mass casualty terror attacks occur in the US then people of all political stripes would agree that things are not going well. Gas prices are another area in which international developments have a direct effect on the voting population. Down is good, up is bad for everyone, except perhaps, the hard-core Greens. It’s a fair bet that Ted Rall would be better disposed to Barack Obama if someone offered him a multi-million dollar job tomorrow.

So if the economy picks up, there are no further attacks on US soil and gas prices go down, then by the common ‘bright line’ argument, Obama is likely to be seen as a “success”; the other way and most will agree things aren’t going so well. Other questions may divide conservatives and liberals, but they will be more philosophical in nature and less visceral.

In a way this is as it should be. The philosophical divisions between the two camps, if they are at all real, must eventually be adjudicted through actual effects. Rall has been “mugged by reality”. But its sobering to realize that every proof that Rall was wrong to support Obama will necessarily be another increment of public pain; job loss, fear or uncertainty. In a way keeping Ted Rall company is like being on a dinosaur island with someone who took you there believing it was a petting zoo. As the rustling in the bushes comes closer and hearing him loudly complain that nobody told him that t-rexes were meat eaters, you want to laugh; indeed it might almost be worth it even if in the end you know that the joke is on you.


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