Talkleft, in commenting on the disillusion among some in the Left with Barack Obama’s frequent changes in political position, provides an example of why I described his candidacy in an earlier post as largely driven by a cult of personality. The problem, says Talkleft, is that BHO was really selling himself, and not a political program, to the electorate. Now that his changes in policy position are so clearly in evidence, some are beginning to realize that ill-concealed fact. Not that it will matter. Talkleft writes:
How does anyone know what Obama really believes or, even more problematic, what beliefs he’ll decide are worth expending political capital on once he’s elected?
We don’t. I think that’s a direct consequence of his having campaigned on generalities like change. People who are unhappy with the current state of affairs just assumed he is on the same side of issues as they are. Since Obama wants change and they want change, they assumed they are all on the same page — like one big happy progressive family. There’s just no way to know that. …
It’s the bait and switch we hate and it makes Obama a tougher sell now. He wasn’t honest with us. He promised reform and a new kind of politics and is relying on the same old Washington play book that’s been in use for decades.
It’s not fair to accuse BHO of a “bait and switch”. The hook was never concealed and even the worm was always labeled as fake. For anyone who was prepared to listen, Obama was always brutally honest to his audience. In his book, the Audacity of Hope, Obama was aware of the vast untapped market for dreams. In fact he knew that selling his audience anything less would be bound to disappoint them.
I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them. Which perhaps indicates a second, more intimate theme to this booknamely, how I, or anybody in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.
It’s a remarkable paragraph, one which captures the excitement of salesman who knows he can close the big deal if only he glides over the fine print. It’s hard to blame Obama, already aware of his audience’s eagerness to believe, for failing to volunteer the messy details. There was no deceit. BHO’s loyalties have been unswervingly for himself and if the customer asked him no questions he would tell them no lies.
Obama’s genius was to understand that many of his supporters needed him more than he needed them. Lemmings need the seashore much more than the seashore needs the lemmings. He could think of it as providing a necessary service. The NYT quotes one man dismissing the complaints of the disaffected Left by asking ‘where are they going to go anyway’?
Illusion, like hope, springs eternal. Eventually there are regrets but never until it is too late. The most common words of regret in any language are probably “but I thought that …”. Some cynic once wrote that it isn’t what you don’t know that hurts you, but what you know that ain’t so. He should have added there are some misfortunes which are caused not by failing to get what you want, but by getting it. Stephen Sondheim ‘s lyrics capture the situation perfectly.
Don’t you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.