Belmont Club

The President as a Hallucination

The New York Times tries it best to convince itself that the “Darkness” — at it puts it — isn’t real. In an article titled “Cry of G.O.P. in Campaign: All Is Dismal”, Jeremy Peters tries to shake his readers out of a funk.

Darkness is enveloping American politics …

Hear it on cable television and talk radio, where pundits and politicians play scientists speculating on whether Ebola will mutate into an airborne virus that kills millions. See it in the black-hooded, machine-gun-brandishing Islamic extremists appearing in campaign ads. Read about it in the unnerving accounts of the Secret Service leaving Mr. Obama and his family exposed.

But get a grip on yourself … the bad news … doesn’t really exist.  It’s just an illusion conjured up by Repubicans.  Democrats, the president warned, “get depressed too easily”.  Obama warned that “we live in such a cynical time, partly because of how the media is now structured”.  Stop reading the news, quit looking out the window and you’ll see the light.  The hostess of a recent fundraiser, Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow, turned her face toward the true sun. “You’re so handsome that I can’t speak properly,” said Paltrow, introducing the president at her home.

The Democratic Party finds itself in a position not unlike Ivan Karamazov, who imagines the Devil is sitting in his sofa and begins to talk to him.  Ivan is not perturbed because he is convinced the Devil is not real;  just a hallucination, simply a bad dream.  In that way he can be accepted as harmless, a simple facet of our own character.  Something ultimately susceptible to baths, therapy or elixirs.  Nothing to fear. But the Devil shakes his confidence by pointing out that,if Ivan truly disbelieved in his existence then why was he talking to him?

“Never for one minute have I taken you for reality,” Ivan cried with a sort of fury. “You are a lie, you are my illness, you are a phantom. It’s only that I don’t know how to destroy you and I see I must suffer for a time. You are my hallucination. You are the incarnation of myself, but only of one side of me… of my thoughts and feelings, but only the nastiest and stupidest of them. From that point of view you might be of interest to me, if only I had time to waste on you-”

“Excuse me, excuse me, I’ll catch you. When you flew out at Alyosha under the lamp-post this evening and shouted to him, ‘You learnt it from him! How do you know that he visits me?’ You were thinking of me then. So for one brief moment you did believe that I really exist,” the gentleman laughed blandly.

Which is, you must admit, a good point. The New York Times’ imaginary Darkness suffers from the same problem. If devil doesn’t exist then why is the Times expending so much energy to counter an imaginary peril? As for Devil himself, he appears to be definitely sitting on their sofa. The polls, even those commissioned by the NYT itself, show president Obama underwater in 43 of the 50 states. “In 43 states, likely voters tend to disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance, and disapproval is especially high in several states with competitive Senate races,” the pollsters conclude. It’s tormenting them, as the devil tormented Ivan.

“You are lying, your aim is to convince me you exist apart and are not my nightmare, and now you are asserting you are a dream.”

“My dear fellow, I’ve adopted a special method to-day … Knowing that you are inclined to believe in me … I lead you to belief and disbelief by turns, and I have my motive in it. It’s the new method. As soon as you disbelieve in me completely, you’ll begin assuring me to my face that I am not a dream but a reality. I know you. Then I shall have attained my object, which is an honourable one. I shall sow in you only a tiny grain of faith and it will grow into an oak-tree.”

How to convince yourself it isn’t real?

The ironic effect of denying the existence of Obama’s mistakes is it necessarily leads to the denial of Obama’s existence as well. Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic Candidate for the US Senate, was caught in this trap.  When asked directly whether she voted for the man who represented her party, she was unable to articulate an answer. Grimes needed an Obama shorn of his record, his mistakes expunged to safely associate with. The actual Obama is not one she should be caught dead with, not if she wants to be elected. Therefore the actual Obama does not exist. If only Grimes could  have him back as he once was,  a blank slate, before he actually assumed the presidency, she would gladly admit to voting for him. But to force her to say whether she voted for the actual person — now that would be unfair.

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But the facts are stubborn things and the calendar is unforgiving. When David Rohde and Warren Strobel in a long and thoughtful article in Reuters explained how the “Syria policy stalled under the ‘analyst in chief'”, they had to identify the man.  The man who centralized all decision making in his office, disregarded the advice of his principal advisers and then, with only a coterie of yes-men to support him, threw it all away. The man who made 3 crucial mistakes.

They say Obama and his inner circle made three fundamental mistakes. The withdrawal of all American troops from neighboring Iraq and the lack of a major effort to arm Syria’s moderate rebels, they say, gave Islamic State leeway to spread. Internal debates focused on the costs of U.S. intervention in Syria, while downplaying the risks of not intervening. And the White House underestimated the damage to U.S. credibility caused by Obama’s making public threats to Assad and then failing to enforce them. …

Far from being disengaged or indecisive on foreign affairs, as he is sometimes portrayed, Obama drives decision-making, say current and former officials….

Some aides complained that alternative views on some subjects, such as Syria, had little impact on the thinking of the president and his inner circle. Despite the open debate, meetings involving even Cabinet secretaries were little more than “formal formalities,” with decisions made by Obama and a handful of White House aides, one former senior U.S. official said.

Obama “considers himself to be analyst in chief, in addition to Commander in Chief,” on certain issues, according to Fred Hof, a former State Department envoy on Syria. “He comes to a lot of the very fundamental judgments on his own, based on his own instincts, based on his own knowledge, based on his own biases, if you will.”

And the man has a name. The second name  he’s had in fact, the first being Barry Soetoro. Thus, however ardently the New York Times may wish that this and other blunders presently sitting on the sofa, helping themselves to tea, would vanish, they stubbornly won’t.  They sit there, like the handsome man in Paltrow’s living Room, saying it’s all just lies in the newspapers. Like Ivan Karamazov in the novel, the Left may have to accept that the president, like the devil,  may actually exist.  Which is why he is, in a manner of speaking, on the ballot.

In a manner of speaking.

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