Roger’s Rules

The magical thinking of Barack Obama

Are you as thrilled as I am to learn that the recession is over? Heck, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, it hardly happened — well, that’s not quite right.  They acknowledge that it was the worst recession “since the Great Depression.”  That’s the standard formula isn’t it?  But not to worry. It ended ages ago. In June 2009, if you can believe it.

No, I don’t believe it either. Even The New York Times has registered the problem: “Second-Quarter Economic Growth,” blared one column, “revised down to 1.6%.”  Meanwhile, nationwide unemployment is hovering close to 10%. In Nevada — so long, Harry Reid! — it’s a whopping 14.4%. The Washington Times put it well when it said “Recession over, but recovery not felt.” The operation was a success, madam; unfortunately, the patient died.

Nevertheless, the president thinks that  “we’re moving in the right direction.” He actually said that to a lady at a Townhall-style meeting the other day.  I like that lady.  Here’s what she said to the president:

I’m one of your middle class Americans. And quite frankly I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.

The frozen smile on the president’s face is something to ponder (“Who let her in here?  Why wasn’t she vetted?”) His response was of the “Rome-wasn’t-built-in-a-day” variety, and ended up with “we’re moving in the right direction.

I guess that must be part of the official White House play book. Vice-President Joe Biden wheeled it out a few weeks ago, to universal derision. No matter. Someone obviously likes the way it sounds: “We’re moving in the right direction,” i.e., we’re whistling in the dark to keep up our courage.

During the 2008 campaign, many commentators, myself included, highlighted Obama’s total lack of executive experience. What did he have going for him? A left-wing ideology and a mixed-race background  that could be counted upon to appeal to white liberals intoxicated by the multicultural agenda.  Noting the contrast between Obama’s high-flown rhetoric and his almost comical lack of substance, many commentators (again, myself included) compared Obama to the Wizard of OZ who nervously tells Dorothy to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

The more I think about it, though, the more I suspect that the Wizard of Oz is not really the right children’s book character for Barack Obama. A much closer parallel is to be found in Humpty Dumpty, as re-imagined by Lewis Carroll.  The Wizard of OZ, after all, is a kindly figure who means well.  He has none of the arrogant presumptuousness or magical thinking of Humpty Dumpty.  Consider this exchange, excavated from an unpublished working draft of Through the Looking Glass: Or, Economics According to Barack Obama:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘moving in the right direction,'” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But ‘moving in the right direction’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

I don’t know that the egg’s explanation satisfied Alice. Probably not. “Of all the unsatisfactory people I ever met” — she never finished the sentence, for at this moment a heavy crash shook the forest from end to end.

Come November, remember the original poem:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall:
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty in his place again.

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