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Obama Then and Now: the Rashomon Effect (first in a series)

September 15th, 2013 - 6:31 am

Sometimes it is worth stepping back from the fray to gain a little perspective. A shipped tossed about in a mighty gale looks one way to the passengers aboard, quite another way (as Lucretius pointed out in his great poem) to the lucky person watching from the comfortable safety of the hilltop overlooking the bay.

I suspect that, for many observers, a material change has lately stolen over the metabolism of political life in America.  A shift in the existential light illuminating events makes what is happening and, retrospectively, what has happened appear differently. The shadows are longer now, a blinding glare obscures things that used to be clearly outlined, and surprising new features of the objects populating the landscape are suddenly in sharp relief.

I believe that we are witnessing the gradual, or possibly not so gradual, decomposition of the emotional consensus that put Obama into the White House in 2008 and, not without a struggle, returned him in 2012. On every front, domestic as well as foreign, statements that seemed apposite a year or two or three ago suddenly, ominously, have acquired new and less pleasing valences.  A few days ago, I expatiated briefly on candidate Obama’s 2008 declaration that he and his followers were only “five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” At the time, Obama’s promise (or should I say, “his threat”?) was greeted with wild cheers.

Now that the transformation is well underway, there are fewer if any cheers.  The economy is moribund.  Obamacare is more unpopular than ever. Racial tensions are far worse now than when Obama came to office. Everywhere one looks, Obama’s domestic agenda is in shambles. And when it comes to international affairs — well, let’s just say that Obama must be rueing the day he drew that red line about Syria or heard the name Vladimir Putin. Has there ever been a more cringe-making presidential  speech than the incoherent bilge that oozed out of Obama’s mouth last Tuesday? Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise speech” is the only thing that even comes close, and at least Carter’s speech had the intelligence of Christopher Lasch’s book The Culture of Narcissism as a source.

There is a certain painful fascination about seeing an elaborately wrought structure shudder and then collapse. It always seems to take place in slow motion, but the actual destruction, once it begins, is generally quite rapid. It’s hard to say exactly where we are in the process of the great Obama dégringolade. Events of this past week, especially the masterly performances by Putin and his foreign minister, lead me to suspect we are pretty far along in the process of dissolution. But wherever you put the marker,  we are certainly far enough along in the Great Unravelling that Obama’s past statements and behavior appear in an utterly new light.

As I say, the significance of “fundamentally transforming the Untied States of America” is one example.  There are many others, and in the weeks and months to come I intend periodically to offer up some choice Obama quotations for a “before and after” consideration. “Fundamentally transforming the United States of America” appeared to mean one thing in October 2008.  It means something quite different now, in 2013. The words are the same, but the meaning has changed, changed utterly.

It is the same with so many of Obama’s declarations.  It would be easy to present an entire list all at once. But multiple entries would dull the effect of the statements. It’s better to take just one or two at a time and savor the discrepancy between the semantic valence when they were first uttered and how they appear to us now. Consider, to take today’s sample, Obama’s statement  from a speech about the future of America’s economy in September 2010:

We can’t tell them [i.e., other nations], don’t grow. We can’t — drive our SUVs and you know, eat as much as we want and keep our homes on you know, 72 degrees at all times, and whether we’re living in the desert or we’re living in the tundra, and then just expect that every other country’s going say OK.

I know that that speech was widely criticized on the right back in 2010.  But somehow it just slid down the memory hole. “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes [at] 72 degrees at all times and then just expect that every other country’s going say OK.”

How does that sound today? We can’t drive our cars, eat what we want, and heat our houses because other countries may not like it.  That’s what the president of the United States said. “Other countries” tell Americans  whether and what they can drive, eat, and to how warm or cool they can keep their houses.

It was meant to be a “Green” speech, a “leading-from-behind” speech, a speech that would reinforce the idea that America was not special, not “exceptional” (just as Obama, and now Vladimir Putin, said!),  not in charge of its own destiny because, whatever advantages we enjoyed, “You didn’t build that.”

There is a species of the anti-American left, consisting of about 95 percent of the professoriate and miscellaneous other elements, who find such rhetoric inspiring.  The rest of us find it irritating, alarming, and irresponsible in varying degrees. What I find interesting, though, is the extent to which such statements — and they are legion — have suddenly mutated in their significance. There were plenty of critics of Obama’s hectoring statement in 2010 — I probably wrote something about it myself — but the reaction to it today is far different, and far less generous, because the atmosphere, the background of affective assumption, is so different now than then.

There was a time when everything Obama said was given the benefit of the doubt, when a presumption of good will and competence bathed everyone in an exculpatory light. Those days are long past. The atmospherics now are decidedly less cordial, less forgiving, and the problems, foreign as well as domestic, that Obama’s ineptitude has compounded become ever more pressing and exigent.  For an observer safely ensconced on shore, a dramatic show is in the offing. Alas, the man from nowhere, the chap nobody knew, whose college records we still cannot see, whose exiguous political record was a masterpiece of nonentity (“Present”), and whose political mentors (Bill Ayres, Rev. Wright) subsist on the furthest fringes of anti-American  hatred, this helmsman of the American dream compasses us all in the impending storm-tossed voyage. Hold on. It’s likely to be a rocky ride.

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“When small men begin to cast big shadows it means the sun is about to set.”
– Lin Yutang

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
America haters (that would include Obama) have long noted that America comprises 5 percent of the world s population, yet consumes 25 percent of the world's energy. This comparison if meant to shame Americans -- make them feel guilty for their prosperity. And so then Communist style "redistribution" can begin. The reality is that (as every failed Communist state is a testament to) under Communism a select elite enrich themselves while the masses starve or eke out a pitiful existence, with the bulk of the population begging for handouts. That is Obama's "vision" for America -- to reduce America to the level of a third world state. Only this can assuage the guilt of the America haters.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Syrian debacle has caused a lot of scales to fall from a lot of eyes, though probably not enough. Putin versus Obama was like Floyd Mayweather versus Woody Allen on the old Friday Night Fights. And to put the cherry on the parfait Putin then lectures the U.S. in a NYT op-ed that was a weird Bizarro-world version of your typical Obama speech. All of this has underlined the essential unseriousness of the Obama administration. All of them, from the Prez on down, can "look" serious - They can furrow brows and make tents with their finger-tips and gaze into the middle-distance with great solemnity - They just can't BE serious. In Putin they are dealing with a very hard guy who has absolutely no illusions about the world or about what he wants. In one sense Obama and Putin are a lot alike. Both are control freaks who want obesiance and obedience to their agenda. Putin at least is brutally direct about it and has the hide of a rhino. Obama seeks obesiance through the indirect means of making us subject to the tortured complexities of bloated l bureaucracies (Obamacare, expansion of EPA authority, wide-ranging use of NSA surveillance, use of the IRS as a political weapon etc.) and has a notoriously thin skin. Both men hate freedom and a free citizenry. That at least they have in common.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (59)
All Comments   (59)
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Perhaps the most frightening (and disappointing) in my long (over 90 years) life, is that I have lifelong friends whom I considered patriotic and intelligent that are still supporting Obama, after his futile attempts to govern. Are there others so dismayed? Misery needs company.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
The spell is gone, but the spell-caster keeps his hold on the body politic. Those who might act to restore sanity are self-neutered. 41 more months of this..
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
The collapse of his God-like persona cannot be denied, even by the cheerleaders at MSNBC. It's entertaining to watch them notice, for the first time, disturbing things about Obama that WE have been going on about since 2009.

Now, the Democrat Party COULD turn on him and aid in the investigations going on (pick your scandal...) and go along with Impeachment.
THAT would be my wish. He IS an embarrassment and is losing control.

The other possibility is frightening....

Obama's ego barely fits on planet Earth and he is being persecuted by his enemies and laughed at by his peers. He IS in so far over his head and lost, it could lead to a mental "snap". Lets face it, his "crowning-achievement", the ACA got it's nick-name "ObamaCare" as a slam, not a compliment.
It has proven to be an unworkable DISASTER and has caused great damage to the economy and real people. It's hugely UNpopular and bears HIS name.

I can see this ego-maniac going all "NAPOLEON" and declaring himself EMPEROR OF AMERICA. He would cancel the Bill of Rights and imprison his enemies. There would be a popular revolt against such a move, but (conveniently) the DHS and IRS are both heavily armed and ready to defend the honor of their Dear-Leader.

>The FUNDAMENTAL TRANSFORMATION of The United States of America<
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
What Obama said given the benefit of the doubt?

By persons, many of themi in influence, entertainment and academic media purveying thier benefits to the benighted masses. Using false advertisment with crucial information omitted. Unexamined, unsaid, unreported.

Not I think by outsiders, or as the Obaministas and friends have them lunatics, astroturf and members of "that vast right wing conspiracy" of Americans. Those lunatic Americans who accept they are the responsibles for their government of, by and for the People. And that who they elect to represent them redounds to them. For good or ill.

Persons who pay attention. Not to the pretty faces, the glib statements, and the razz-ma-taz of the cheerleaders. People who pay attention to what the people who campaign to represent America/Americans become say. AND how they say it. And where important to provide evidence of their statements and qualifications for the job in all the specifics.

Those Americans who not only did not accept what these influence peddlars sold, but what Obama himself was reported to have said. Nor by those who wanted to know what he meant by what he said.

To have given Obama the benefit of the doubt ought to be object lesson for those, especially reputed best and brightest. They if any should know that to select from offerings it is necessary to Listen. And to insist on clarity and proofs for motive, means and opportunity.

The lesson to listen. Really listen to what is being said and what is being meant by what is said. Takes time and needs confrontatino with questions about details and methods. In other words motive, means and opportunity.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
By the time Obama, the pop icon, was rolled out the left and the MSM had been in control of the minds of the majority of cultural consumers for so long that putting him over was child's play. Just as they had been able to create an impression that a mediocre actor or tone-deaf rock star was brilliant, they first presented Obama as a public speaker of such power that to see him was to grow weak in the knees - famously emphasized by the likes of Chris Matthews. Voters didn't have to listen to his speeches, which most probably didn't, to understand his amazing gifts because everyone said he had them, he was "a rock star!". These cultural salespeople had become so adept at packaging those of modest talent as geniuses that they didn't even have to conspire to convince anyone that Obama was the one that we had been waiting so long for. Through the tawdry vulgarity of the Clinton years and the inarticulate cowboy Bush we had persevered as a nation until at last a shining light was brought forth to save us. The trouble with the cultural sales force is that their product is always second-rate, cheap and ordinary.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I believe that we are witnessing the gradual, or possibly not so gradual, decomposition of the emotional consensus that put Obama into the White House"

Regrettably, I won't believe that until I see the MSM coverage on the Benghazi and IRS scandals approach the levels of the coverage attained by the Trayvon Martin case. Until such time, I sense no change anywhere but in the pundits.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
MSM tell the TRUTH? Which would be easier? Build a bridge to Hawaii or MSM speak the truth
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
So Putin tells Obama (and America) that we can't do what we want militarily, and Obama says "ok". So he won't push to allow us to live as we want, but he'll acquiesce to us living as Putin wants.
People used to scoff at me when I said that I wasn't sure if Obama hated America's military more than America's prominence, as it seemed to me that he hated both very much. I'm still not sure which he hates more, but I'm not scoffed at any more when I pose the question.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem my wife and i had in the 2008 election was the that Oabama's adversary, the gOp candidate Sen McCain, acted subservient to Sen Obama.
He would not fight to win the election. McCain was not a fit candidate then and is certainly not fit to continue on as a Senator now. Palin fought like heck but was looked at as kooky and unsophisticated. The 2012 election, in my view, was won via fraud and corruption on the Dem. side. In 4 years they learned how to manipulate the electoral system. If the GOP offer up a candidate that will fight to win, will earn the minority vote, and will ensure the sanctity of the vote come eelction day, the GOp will take over the Congress and the Presidency, and the USA will begin the long climb to recovery. There are a few good men/women that are leaders Americans will follow; some are reluctant to undertake the task. One I believe could win is Dr Ben Carson, but would he
run. There are others, of course, but my choice is the Doctor, with an ideal temperament to deal with the Nation's problems.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The problem my wife and i had in the 2008 election was the that Oabama's adversary, the gOp candidate Sen McCain, acted subservient to Sen Obama."

You're not alone in your judgment of the fatuous McCain. This is a guy, whose promotion to Senator landed him in a job well beyond his meager capacities (which is saying something given how useless the Senate is now that they don't represent their states), was never going to be nominated for dog catcher except for that most unfortunate Republican "tradition" about whose turn it was to run. He was a disaster. I recall Dick Morris' clever formulation in 2008: The Democrats nominated a candidate that cannot win, and the Republicans nominated a candidate that cannot lose. How disappointing that it wasn't true.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dr. Ben Carson will be seen by the majority of the electorate as whatever negative image the MSM decides to portray him. That is the reality. So long as we lack an honest popular media we will fail to turn our nation in a positive direction. It will take about two weeks following the arrival of a Dr. Carson on the political horizon before you will hear your friends, neighbors, and relatives saying “that man scares me to death with his radical ideas” as a result of their being fed a steady diet of bullsh*t from their information sources.

Nobody is going to arrive on a white horse to save America from itself until the Pravda-like mainstream media is throttled. And that day seems to be far off.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
The question isn't whether Obama is unraveling, but rather whether he has served his purpose for those who put him there.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
How, exactly, does one "expatiate briefly" - isn't that a little like humble bloviation?

Ten-dollar words usually cheapen prose and dictionaries accompany thesauri well.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Both are examples of an oxymoron.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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