Saturday, October 1, 2011

Storyteller-in-Chief

For quite some time I have been at pains, in this blog and on my website, to explain that life is not a story. It's a game. You will not understand human behavior or even human motivation if you insist on forcing human experience into a narrative.

After all, coaching comes to us from athletics, not from story books. When the football coach is preparing for the next game he does not concoct a narrative; he formulates a game plan.

My pains notwithstanding, everyone seems to have fallen in love with the notion that life is a narrative. I suspect that people are taking their cues from David Brooks, who often makes it sound as though storytelling were the latest scientific discovery.

There’s good and bad in David Brooks, but Brooks can only guide you toward what is trendy. Anyone who trusts him to provide anything more deserves what he gets.

Yesterday, Peggy Noonan applied these thoughts to politics.

She was slightly, but reasonably, unnerved at hearing the political class drone on about “narrative."

She offers them all some advice: “Everyone in politics should stop this. For one thing, a narrative is not something that can be imposed, it is something that bubbles up. It's something people perceive on their own and then talk about, and if it's true, the talk spreads.”

We all agree that people tell stories. Children, especially, find them captivating. It is wrong, Noonan says, to think that you can lead a nation, or anything else, by telling a good story.

In her pragmatic words: “Here's the problem: There is no story. At the end of the day, there is only reality. Things work or they don't. When they work, people notice, and say it.”

The greatest offender here is our current president. After reading Ron Suskind’s interview with Barack Obama in his book Confidence Men, Noonan remarked, astutely, that our president seems to believe that his job is to craft a narrative.

I suspect that Obama is more desirous of belonging to the intellectual elite than he is of leading the nation. Talking about stories shows that you belong.

Noonan writes: “Mr. Suskind asked him why his team had difficulty creating a policy to deal with unemployment. Mr. Obama said some of it was due to circumstances, some to the complexity of the problem. Then he added: ‘We didn't have a clean story that we wanted to tell against which we would measure various actions.’ Huh? It wasn't ‘clean,’ he explained, because ‘what was required to save the economy might not always match up with what would make for a good story.’"

Exasperated, Noonan continues: “Throughout the interview the president seems preoccupied with ‘shaping a story for the American people.’ He says: ‘The irony is, the reason I was in this office is because I told a story to the American people.’ But, he confesses, ‘that narrative thread we just lost’ in his first years.

“Then he asks, ‘What's the particular requirement of the president that no one else can do?’ He answers: ‘What the president can do, that nobody else can do, is tell a story to the American people’ about where we are as a nation and should be.”

She concludes: “Tell a story to the American people? That's your job? Not adopting good policies? Not defending the nation? Storytelling?”

Obama is demonstrating, yet again, that he does not know who he is, what he is doing, or what his job is.

If he was not susceptible to liberal trendiness, he might think of himself as a coach. Then he would recognize that he needs to formulate a game plan and that his job is to find a way to implement that plan.

As of now, he seems preoccupied with figuring out how to dupe the American people a second time. All the while, he is berating his opponents for failing to provide leadership.

Perhaps, that will be the story that defines the failed Obama presidency.



6 comments:

JP said...

"“Throughout the interview the president seems preoccupied with ‘shaping a story for the American people.’ He says: ‘The irony is, the reason I was in this office is because I told a story to the American people.’ But, he confesses, ‘that narrative thread we just lost’ in his first years.

“Then he asks, ‘What's the particular requirement of the president that no one else can do?’ He answers: ‘What the president can do, that nobody else can do, is tell a story to the American people’ about where we are as a nation and should be.”"

This explains a lot.

Fortunately, we are back in a second recession, so he's telling a good tragedy.

His problem is that it's not very pleasant to tell a tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Jesus used stories called parables (earthly story with heavenly meaning) to teach. He didn't write an autobiography, let alone 2, and his life story was not recorded until many years after his death. He was busy in his short career on earth battling the Sadducees and Pharisees, but not from the position of ruler on earth.

Perhaps a person with a messiah complex believes traveling the country telling stories is his calling. He's got the traveling, but not the stories. His allegory of driving a car in the ditch has passed it's expiration date, just an earthly story with an earthly meaning.

We've had presidents that are witty, can tell a good joke or short story, but generally had a vision of what they wanted to achieve, not a narrative, or an entire presidency of "My Pet Goat."

Malcolm said...

Obama does not even know his wife's name.

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2011/10/obama_refers_to_his_wife_as_michael.html

flynful said...

I have not read Confidence Men but I did read a summary where Obama was quoted by Suskind as saying something like Reagan was really good at playing the role of president. Is that why Obama admires Reagan? If so, we have a president who is not concerned with governing as president but just in acting the part. If there is any truth to this one has to ask who is writing the script?

Katielee4211 said...

Shaping a story? He's in office because he told a story to the American People...I'd agree with that. Tell a story where we are and where we should be..?
'Story'---a palatable way of saying propaganda?

Kelly said...

Perhaps we should start referring to 'the story-based community'.