In 2008 America’s elite intellectuals sold the nation an empty narrative. Using their near-monopoly power in the media our cognoscenti convinced the majority of the American people that a man who had no qualifications for the presidency could conduct the office.
Living their own secularized religious narrative they believed that America was being punished for its original sin of slavery and that the only way out of its crises was to find a man who, in his flesh, would redeem the sin.
Now that the painful truth has become so manifest that even the most blindered intellectuals can see it, elite thinkers are steeling themselves for what they sense coming: Barack Obama seems to be losing the upcoming election.
How else to explain the pre-election post-mortems coming from the liberal media? One by one they are lining up to explain how Obama failed. Some will still vote for him, some are hoping that he will pull it out, but all are conspicuously lacking in enthusiasm.
For a group that went all-in for Obama in 2008 the enthusiasm deficit is worth noting.
It is also self-serving. If our leading thinkers did not understand that Obama was an empty narrative, their judgment was severely impaired. If they believed that an empty narrative could govern the United States they were more interested in flexing their own power than in the nation’s future.
Barack Obama was created out of next-to-nothing by the media. By electing him they demonstrated their extraordinary power to manipulate public opinion.
Selling an empty narrative is far more difficult than selling a substantive product.
As a business model the mainstream print media seems no longer viable. Perhaps they are looking ahead to the day when they will need to become government employees.
If the world wakes up to the scam, the media’s reputation will be severely damaged.
Right now, by pre-emptively blaming Obama the media elites are doing their best to avoid responsibility.
Obviously, some still believe that Obama might win. Some even believe that God has sent us Hurricane Sandy to save Obama’s election chances.
Yet, they are sufficiently disappointed with the Obama performance that one wonders whether they would be happier to see Mitt Romney take over and try to pick up the pieces of a failed presidency.
With intellectuals it’s all about not leaving any fingerprints.
Yesterday Matt Bai wrote in the New York Times that Obama has failed to govern because he has not crafted a governing narrative. Considering the source, it is worth taking notice.
Bai confesses that he has been surprised to see a man who is so good at telling stories be so incompetent at selling the narrative of his presidency.
Apparently, he is shocked to discover that the real Barack Obama has so little in common with the media narrative.
Bai makes an interesting point, even if it is poorly conceptualized.
He ought to have noted that Obama does not need to tell a story because he is a story. He is a story made flesh.
Bai would have done better to see that administrations do not need narratives as much as they need concepts.
To some it will be a distinction without a difference but, like a policy, a concept is an organizing principle. Where a policy defines a consistent pattern of behavior, a concept defines the meaning of the administration.
If Obama had had a concept, he would have done as Bai wishes he had done:
You could have imagined, at that moment, an Oval Office address, followed by a national tour, in which the new president laid out the causes and depth of the crisis he had inherited and the measures he would take over the first 18 months of his term — short-term stimulus, long-term investment, modernization of financial regulation and the tax code — to put the country on a different course. All of these policies were probably necessary, and they were probably salable too, if Obama had seen it as one of his central responsibilities to explain how they all fit together. The president and his advisers were, to be fair, inundated with the realities of multiple crises, and so Obama forged ahead with all of these policy solutions (not to mention a massive health care plan and what amounted to the temporary nationalization of the car companies), which, absent any real marshaling of public opinion, emboldened his opponents and caught much of the country by surprise.
Even if he confuses a narrative with a concept, Bai, surprisingly, overlooks the fact that Obama’s presidency does have a concept.
The real problem is that so few people want to buy it.
Call it income redistribution or social justice, but Obama has governed according to the time-honored principles of tax and spend.
It’s not so much that he wants to take from the rich and give to the poor. He prefers taking from the private sector and giving to public sector employees whose unions so generously supported him.
The most powerful moment in the first presidential debate occurred when Mitt Romney said that the concept defining the Obama administration was “trickle down government.”
It's very difficult to craft a winning narrative around the concept of trickle down government.