Monday, April 25, 2011

Obama's Multiple Personalities

Most commentators on the right and the left feel that we should not even be asking where Barack Obama was born.

Beyond the fact that a goodly majority considers the “birther” issue to be settled science, many serious Republicans believe that the issue makes Republicans look bad.

Republicans are not really short on issues where they can challenge, and hopefully, defeat Barack Obama.

Besides, searching for Obama’s birth certificate is beginning to feel like Monica Lewinsky redux. Remember how well that worked out for Republicans?

And what if the birth certificate issue is a trap? What would happen if Obama pulled an October surprise and released his birth certificate in the midst of the election campaign, proving that he had been born in Hawaii?

But, that isn't really the issue. Like it or not, there is something about Barack Obama that does not feel right to large numbers of American citizens. It’s playing out in the “birther” issue, but most Americans feel that they do not really know who Barack Obama, where he came from, and whether or not they can trust him.

Many Americans bought into a well-crafted fictional character called Barack Obama, only to discover that they had been fooled, tricked, and deceived. They had thought that they were voting for one set of policies and discovered that they had really voted for another.

When there’s a crisis, we do not know who is going to show up or whether anyone is going to show up. It’s looking to many Americans that they elected Chauncey Gardiner.

If you’re confused, fear not. David Brooks is here to explain that we cannot pin down Barack Obama because there are many Barack Obamas. Link here.

It recalled to mind Walt Whitman's famous quote: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."

This is fine for a poet. Poets do not make policy. Poetry is not about giving and keeping your word. Whether or nor Obama's multiples rise to the level of multitudes, the truth is, we expect and deserve more from a president.

Brooks reassures us that it is good to have multiple personalities. To his mind, it makes Obama a supple thinker, someone who can shift attitudes and policies on a dime, who does not go “all in” on any one policy.

Among people who are supposed to lean right, Brooks has already distinguished himself as a perfect dupe. Even before Obama was running for the presidency, he sat down for an interview with Brooks. When Brooks gazed meaningfully on Obama’s neatly creased trousers and had an epiphany. He saw that the man with the perfectly creased trousers was going to be President of the United States.

Now, he seems to hanging on to that epiphany the way a dog fights to hold on to a dirty old rag, tenaciously. Brooks does not seem to understand that dragging out new rationalizations only makes him look like a greater fool.

Anyway, Brooks tried to explain the enigma of Barack Obama on CNN.

In his words: “He’s multiple animals. You know, I would say we’re all – we all have multiple personalities. My psychobabble description of him is he’s a very complicated person who has many different selves, all of them authentic, but they come out in different contexts. And he is — has always has the ability to look at other parts of himself from a distance, and so it means he has great power to self-correct and I think it gives him power to see himself.  It means that he rarely is all in.”

He continues: “You know, President Bush didn’t have as much – many multiple selves, so when he made a decision he was all in, he was just going to be there. But as I think President Obama is much more cautious, because he’s a man of many pieces and many parts and not all of which I understand or I think anybody understands.  But it may — it leads to that caution that we see time and time again and almost a self-distancing I see.”

On one point, Brooks is right: this is psychobabble. As sometimes happens Brooks does not know what he is talking about.

He seems to believe that we all have multiple personalities. To him, this means that we are complicated.

For the record, in today’s psychiatry, multiple personalities are more often called Dissociative Identity Disorder. You may know of the fictional version, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Dissociative identity disorder is a serious illness. It is not just a variant on normal human behavior. Nor is it just a malign form of something we all do when we act differently in different situations. Sometimes we are kind, sometimes we are rigid; sometimes we are happy, sometimes we are sad; sometimes we are garrulous, sometimes we are taciturn.

Still and all, if you are talkative with one group and reticent with another, that does not meant that you have put on a new personality. It means that different circumstances require different behaviors. Regardless of which personality trait you adapt, there should never be any doubt about who you are.

Someone who suffers from dissociative identiy disorder can change personalities quickly, often forgetting what he was doing when he was in a dissociative state.

This is very bad news for the person who cannot recall what he did while he was acting as another personality, and it is bad news for anyone who has dealings with said person.

It’s not just that your husband or wife is in a bad mood one day and a good mood the next, but it’s like coming home and not knowing who is going to greet you at the door.

If you are dealing with multiple personalities, all of whom have the same face, you have a problem. You cannot know whether promises made by one will be kept by any of the others, or whether the others even know about the promises made by the one.

As always, Brooks is really defending Brooks. He cannot bring himself to believe that his trouser crease epiphany misled him. His powers of rationalization far exceed his powers of ratiocination.

So, let’s say that we have a president who is inconsistent, inconstant, ineffectual, and who does not seem to know who he is and what his role is, who made promises as a candidate that he does not feel obliged to keep.

You should not try to rationalize character flaws by saying that we all have multiple personalities. If someone tells you the truth half the time and lies half the time, he is a liar. It’s not very complicated.

We have a president who seems to believe that giving his word is expedient, but that he is not obliged to keep it.

Since our president, as was reported today, prefers “leading from behind,” the nation and the world are effectively leaderless. As you watch the unfolding turmoil in the Middle East, doesn’t it look like a world where no one is in charge?

Brooks does not see it this way. He wants to tell us that Obama is really just like all of us, only better.

To his mind, Obama possesses superior intelligence, a towering intellect that allows him to shift with the wind, to change course more rapidly than the rest of us.

But, what is the difference between what Brooks calls “the power to self-correct” and going back on his word? If one personality is as authentic as another, then why would you ever trust either?

I will not make too much out of Brooks misuse of the term “authentic.” It has become a pseudo-intellectual shibboleth, made more meaningless for being applied to the term personality.

As everyone knows, or should know, the term personality comes from the Latin persona, which means “mask.” Saying that we all don authentic masks abuses the human mind.

If there are many Barack Obamas that explains why so many people have been trying to solve the mystery of Barack Obama.

Brooks seems not to respect it, but with George Bush, we knew who he was, what he stood for, and how he was going to lead the nation.

If Obama has multiple personalities then that would explain why so many citizens feel that they need to find out who Obama really is. The fault does not lie in the citizens who are trying to solve the riddle, but in the president who does not seem to know who he is, where he is, or what he is doing.

Now, doesn't that make you feel better?


Deadman said...

“As always, Brooks is really defending Brooks. He cannot bring himself to believe that his trouser crease epiphany misled him. His powers of rationalization far exceed his powers of ratiocination.”

That paragraph is gold.

Ralph said...

Yes, I think you've hit Brooks motive in continually revising his own view of Obama.

How does someone with changing personalities as defined by Brooks develop any integrity? Integrity is vital to being a good leader. You must have a pretty good idea of where the boss stands on most issues, so that when he isn't around you can make a pretty good guess. The lack of Obama being able to instill in those serving in his cabinet a sense of himself has resulted in conflicting comments on policy (Libya is the most recent example).

Megan said...

This cannot have effect in fact, that is what I believe.