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