Belmont Club

Obama, Power Line and GK Chesterton

Power Line argues that for some perverse reason, some people on the Left trust Barack Obama because he “will lie” about his own beliefs. John Hinderaker wrote:


The idea that President Obama’s supporters trust him precisely because they believe that he frequently misrepresents his own beliefs is becoming more widespread. My friend Bob Cunningham was one of the first to explicate this phenomenon. “It has long been noticed that Obama’s slipperiness had been accepted by the left during the Hope-and-Change campaign when He took positions, for example and notably, NAFTA and foreign trade generally, on both sides of an issue. They were willing to cut Him slack in most cases precisely because they just assumed that, of course!!…He was lying….to someone…about the issue.”

This has been particularly noticeable with the gay marriage issue….Carrie Prejean being exactly right when noting that her position is identical to that of His Oneness. But Obama gets a pass, of course, from the homosexual activists because they just assume He is lying!!!… Today Frank Rich in the New York Times comes as close as I’ve seen actually to acknowledge openly the “we trust Him because He’s lying” view: “Obama’s opposition to same-sex marriage is now giving cover to every hard-core opponent of gay rights, from the Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean to the former Washington mayor Marion Barry, each of whom can claim with nominal justification to share the president’s views. In reality, they don’t. Obama has long been, as he says, a fierce advocate for gay equality. The Windy City Times has reported that he initially endorsed legalizing same-sex marriage when running for the Illinois State Senate in 1996.”


This kind of political relationship can occur only if discourse can be carried out at more than one level. For Power Line’s assertion to be correct, it implies that some of Obama’s supporters, instead of relying on a single channel, actually communicate over two distinct paths. The reason they can disregard the signal conveyed by what he says is if they have a separate channel which communicates what he is. An excerpt from a 1905 essay by GK Chesterton on the “West’s Malady” sent to me by a friend expresses it perfectly. In it, Chesterton argues that the best predictor of what man will do is his world view. Anything else is incidental. Society can often take both sides of a position, often alternately, sometimes simultaneously. But what counts is its fundamental character and the cunning man knows what to look for.

But there are some people, nevertheless—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them. In the fifteenth century men cross-examined and tormented a man because he preached some immoral attitude; in the nineteenth century we feted and flattered Oscar Wilde because he preached such an attitude, and then broke his heart in penal servitude because he carried it out. It may be a question which of the two methods was the more cruel; there can be no kind of question which was the more ludicrous. The age of the Inquisition has not at least the disgrace of having produced a society which made an idol of the very same man for preaching the very same things which it made him a convict for practising.


The reason therefore that the Left can “trust” Obama whatever he says is the belief they have been vouchsafed over a separate channel some message about his character. Whether they are deluded or not remains to be seen.  Stalin believed he could trust Hitler. That proved a little short of true. And while there is no intention to compare anyone with Hitler or Stalin, the point is simply that you can be lied to over both channels. Chesterton lived before Orwell coined the term “doublethink”. But he understood that things were not always what they seemed, and strove in his own way, to discover the more lasting basis of truth. In the past I sat in on many discussions in which members of the “National Democratic Front”, that organ of the Party charged with building alliances and acquiring an armor of human shields, described how they crafted their slogans to draw in supporters. Their slogans always used words like “God” and “Democracy”. Consequently, my questions were always the same: at what point do you tell your tame clergymen that you don’t believe in God? When do you tell the other members of the national united front that they must submit to the unchallengeable leadership of the Great, Glorious and Correct Party, the Vanguard of the Proletariat. And their answers were always the same: we’ll tell them when they are ready to understand, though the smartest of them will have understood long before then.


Their national democratic allies couldn’t handle the truth; couldn’t know what was necessary for strong men to do in order to build the worker’s paradise. And so in their kindness, the hard men told them a lie, which is their kind of truth.

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