Freudian Slips in Nightmare Alley

My Pajamas Media colleague Ed Driscoll has already picked up Obama’s “Jew, I mean a janitor” gaffe on CNBC. For those who just got back from vacation on another planet, what Obama said to the Congressional Black Caucus was:

If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew, uh, as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor. I have no problem with that.

It’s already hit a number of the conservative discussion boards, but except for a passing mention at a Los Angeles Times blog, this utterly outrageous slip made into not one mainstream media news outlet. Ed is right: if this had been Bush, we would have not heard the end of it.

The remarkable thing is that Obama was reading from a prepared text and made the slip nonetheless. The shrinks would have a good deal to say about this. Cracks may be appearing in Obama’s unflappable, freeze-dried facade. In some ways that is a scary prospect.

Two years ago I published a piece of political satire entitled “Obama in Nightmare Alley,” or rather tried to publish it; in the decade I have written the “Spengler” column at Asia Times Online, it was the one occasion on which a piece was spiked. So I posted it at the First Things blog instead. Martin Peretz at New Republic had argued that Obama might be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder: “What I suspect is that the president is probably a clinical narcissist. This is not necessarily a bad condition if one maintains for oneself what the psychiatrists call an “optimal margin of illusion,” that is, the margin of hope that allows you to work. But what if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms?”

It happens that in the DSM-IV categorization of such illnesses, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Anti-Social Personality Disorder (what used to be called sociopathy) are closely related. Sociopaths lie effortlessly and without fear. In some respects Obama shows the coldness and mendacity of a sociopath (he certainly lied convincingly to Jewish supporters during the summer of 2008).

This is satire, I hasten to add, not diagnosis: let the shrinks figure out our president as best they might. But there is something creepy about Barack Obama that to this observer brings to mind the carney mentalist played by Tyrone Power, Jr. in the 1947 noir creaker Nightmare Alley. Power’s sociopath ends up as the carnival Geek. Obama has spent his life (as the brilliant Angelo Codevilia puts it) as “the Chosen One,” the vehicle of an establishment for whom Obama came as a gift from Central Casting. But the personality traits that made Obama such an attractive figure upon whom to project wishful thinking may not serve him well under duress. The President, in short, bears careful watching.