Thursday, June 17, 2010

"It Was Like He Was Raised by Wolves"

We all have our own ways of falling out of love. There are no right and wrong ways to discover that our hopes have been dashed, or that we have been fooled, tricked, or had. Finding out that we have misjudged someone's character or misread our own feelings is painful indeed.

We have all had the experience. We have all gotten over it. Such is life.

And most of us do it in private. We have enough trouble with our own lost love; we do not want to be privy to everyone else's mistakes.

As I and many others have noted, you do not need to have an intimate relationship to fall in love. You can fall in love with an image, with a mirage, even with an icon. You can fall in love with a celebrity, from a safe distance, and invest all of your hope in his presumably salutary persona.

And you can fall in love with a politician, with a leader, even with a demagogue.

If it ever should happen that you find yourself falling in love with a political leader, that should tell you, off the top, that he is not a very capable leader. He might be overflowing with eloquence and charisma, but if you are feeling especially amorous, you are almost certainly idealizing him. If you have to idealize a leader, you are compensating for the lack of true leadership qualities.

Such is the case of the pundits and media mavens who fell in love with Barack Obama. See my previous comments here. When you have sacrificed your professional integrity to your love affair with a mirage, you have, as they say, some serious 'splaining to do.

Thus my interest in Maureen Dowd's latest effort to salvage her love for Barack Obama. Clearly, she has been disappointed by him; clearly he has let her down. Just as clearly, she is not alone. To use one of Obama's favorite tropes, he is not the man she thought he was. Link here.

In truth, when you fall madly in love, the person is never the person you thought they were. That's why they call it "mad."

How did she get him so wrong? Having asked herself the question, Dowd responds that compared with his two predecessors, Clinton and Bush, Obama seemed to be "normal."

Leave to the side that Obama was not running against either Bill Clinton or George Bush, Dowd seems to be using the word "normal" to describe a state that is supposed to be goal of therapy. She is saying, get this, that Obama is not as normal as he seemed to be, and thus, he would be a better president, he could repair their relationship and revive her dying love, by getting some therapy!

All of those who have been imploring Obama to get in touch with his feelings, the better to project some anger about what is going on in the Gulf are saying that Obama's presidency can be cured by therapy.

If you are not immersed in the therapy culture, you might be surprised at what Dowd is implying: namely, that if Obama were more normal then he would naturally know how to provide leadership, would be able to take control of situations, and would show the right emotion at the right time.

As we all know, traditional psychotherapy has never concerned itself with practicalities like managing your life or your relationships. It has always assumed that if you resolve your past issues and get in touch with your feelings, you will automatically know how to deal with whatever problems cross your path.

It's job is to lead you toward normality, or, at least, toward a reasonable facsimile. Once you are sufficiently normal you will naturally make the right decisions and do the right thing.

In therapy, this has never really worked as promised. If you know why you are afraid of riding a bicycle, that does not mean that you now know how to ride a bicycle. In truth, the best way to get over your fear of bicycles is to jump on a bike.

The history of psychotherapy is populated by patients who have explored all of their complexes and resolved their issues to the full satisfaction of their therapists, but, who still have the same problems they had when they began therapy.

What would Obama be doing if he possessed sufficient psychological health? Dowd answers: "President Obama's bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision. It has made him unable to understand things quickly on a visceral level and put him on the defensive in this spring of our discontent, failing to understand that Americans are upset that a series of greedy corporations have screwed over the little guy without enough fierce and immediate pushback from the president."

As it happens, Dowd is right about Obama's bloodless quality, his failure to grasp events, and perhaps even his failure to accept his role as president. And let's notice that she is trying to show him how to use strong rhetoric to express fierce rage.

But she is wrong to say that it would all be better if Obama expressed enough anger. As Dr. Helen Smith wrote two weeks ago, getting angry does not help. Link here. Great leaders are not distinguish for the quality or depth of their emotions. They are, as Dr. Helen says, cool, rational, and in command of the situation. Obama does not need to channel the rage of Maureen Dowd; he needs to emulate Bobby Jindal.

Of course, it's possible to be too cool, and too detached, so completely overwhelmed by events that you look lost.

And therein lies another kind of problem. Dowd identifies it well by quoting an especially telling remark made by Michelle Obama. In Dowd's words: "Michelle once told a friend that 'Barack spent so much time by himself that it was like he was raised by wolves.' But he seems to have come through exceptionally well adjusted."

Ann Althouse was not impressed by Dowd's begging the basic question. Althouse comments: "How does that work? Raised-by-wolfishness leads to (a semblance) of normality? Solitude fosters a deep longing to be with others and one overachieves in the appearance of normal department?" Link here.

Happily enough, Althouse includes a picture of herself under a statue of the legendary she-wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus, both of whom turned out fairly well. Even if only in mythic terms.

Look at what is implied in the notion that it was like Obama was raised by wolves. Being brought up spending too much time with yourself would not make you a very engaged and emotionally connected husband. Being alone and isolated, you would not have learned basic skills like cooperation, teamwork, negotiation, and leadership. Failing to spend enough time with others you would not have learned how to get along with others. In those cases you are not likely to know how to form friendships and relationships. And you will not have a clue about how to lead.

Someone who is brought up in isolation, who does not have the experience of fitting into groups, has probably, if he is bright, lived within his mind. And he probably relates to great minds more than to people who know how to get things done in the world, who know how to organize groups, and accomplish tasks.

If he lived in his mind, he might have come to believe that minds should prevail over matter, that minds create worlds, that a group of great thinkers can solve anything. Keep in mind that no one around Obama has had real administrative and managerial experience.

As it happens, Ann Althouse also voted for Obama, not because she thought that he was "normal" but because, she thought he was the better of the two choices. And now, she advises Maureen Dowd to accept responsibility for her vote. In her words: "We need to see what we have done. We've elected a man and we need to cast aside our silly illusions and see what we've done."


Jordan Henderson said...

Finding out that we have misjudged someone's character or misread our own feelings is painful indeed.

What does it mean to have misread our own feelings? How can we later read them correctly? How do we gain the privileged position to suddenly see clearly what has happened in the past?

In the end, there's "falling in love" and there's commitment.

When we commit to a love, a program or even a politician, we commit to support those things until we find that impossible.

That's why we should choose those things to which we commit very carefully.

Jordan Henderson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good question... I think that we can fool ourselves into thinking we love someone when we merely lust after them. We can have strong feelings about a person and mistake them for signs of love.

But I take your point about commitment. Since feelings are not always what they seem to be, it is, as you say, very important to choose carefully and deliberately what we commit to.

Obsidian said...

Hi Doc,
Very interesting comments, and I've been following your "series" for some time now. You might find the following commentary of my own to be of some interest:

"It’s even true, it’s even especially true, with regard to our 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. He got virtually 100% of the Black Vote-even Black MEN, like Armstrong Williams and Colin Powell, gave him their support-and what do Black Men have to show for it?

If the stats are any indication, nothing.

But wait Obsidian, the whole country’s going through a hard time right now, and besides, Obama’s not even halfway through his term, you may say. And you’d be right.

But here’s the point-not only has Obama done nothing in return for overwhelming Black Man electoral support, *he doesn’t even address their concerns openly or otherwise*. Obama’s from the Chi-he knows the deal. Yet, to date, the ONLY time he’s addressed Black Men as a group, was to dress them down on Father’s Day back when he was a candidate. And, because as far as I know, no one else who’s Black and Male are raising these kinds of points, I must therefore conclude, that the bulk and mass of Black Male voters, are cool with all that.

You get what you pay for…or in this case, vote for, I suppose."


Obsidian said...

And a bit more:

"But, if now-President and then-candidate Obama’s dressing down of Black Men on Father’s Day is any indication, we can expect the full extent of said Black political leadership to be comprised of “tough love” speeches, coupled with other errata that has little if anything to do with Black Men’s lives. And if you think that is the correct course of action, consider the following:

How do you think Jews would react to a political candidate who is asking for their vote, who “dressed them down” about how Israel was treating the Palestinians?

How do you think the Gay/Lesbian community would react to a politician who was asking for their vote, who “dressed them down” wrt say, HIV/AIDS?

How do you think Women would react to a political candidate who was asking for their vote, if he/she started out by excoriating them for making life for guys bad?

We al know the answers to these questions. But since it’s Black Men though, is OK.

And evidently, Black Men think it’s OK, too.

Like I said, you get the political “leadership” you deserve.


Would love to get your take on all this, Doc...


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for your comments and questions, Obsidian.

You raise a number of complex issues, so I will offer some thoughts on them.

First, I would note a poll today that shows Obama losing the support of African Americans in New Jersey.

Second, I think you make a very good point about Obama's dressing down of the black community-- in public, no less. I doubt that any other ethnic community would have been quite so tranquil about it.

But perhaps the members of the black community recognized that they were not really the target audience, but that Obama was really trying to establish his bona fides with the white community by subtly separating himself from a black community that he has spent decades trying to cultivate.

Third, I would imagine that whatever pride the African American community took in the election of the first black president will one day run up against the reality of: what has he done, and not just for the African-American community, but for the country.

As for the African American community, I wonder how loyal it can continue to be when its youth have the highest unemployment rate of any group in the nation. I recall that African-American youth unemployment is now approaching 50%.

Promising is one thing; delivering is quite another. And it doesn't look to me that Obama is really delivering for a community that gave him an extraordinary level of support in the election.

Obsidian said...

"Promise"?!? You can't be serious, Doc. LOL. When did Obama EVER "promise" to address the concerns I raised in my post, or for that matter, the concerns you raised in your comments above? I'll patiently wait while you dig up the quotes.

We know where he stood on everything BUT Black folks, and as we both agreed, he got virtually 100% support from them. Now, as I understand politics - and I worked two campaigns - when you support a politician, you do so with the tacit, often explicit, understanding that you got something in return for your support. Usually, that something was in line with something that was important to you.

Black folk cannot say that, not just with Obama, but Black political leadership accross the board - again, please see my post that I linked to. And please note the utter lack of traffic activity since its posting on my blogsite. The silence is deafening, and it's for good reason. Because the truth, hurts.


Obsidian said...

Also, Doc,
Obama never had any such connection or tie to Black America. The proof? His only electoral loss in his career to date, at the hands of US Congressman and former Black Panther Bobby Rush in 2000. Study that history, and everything else will be illuminated.


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Promises... I was thinking about Obama's promise that the unemployment level would remain under 8% if Congress passed his stimulus.

So I considered job creation to be a promise, though, if the issue is the promises he made to the black community, I would have to agree with you. I know of none.

Obsidian said...

Doc, politics is a very simple game. You support those who serve your best interests. Tell me, if the Jews would support someone who vaguely promised "peace in the Middle East". I think we both know the answer to that one. And rightly so.

To borrow a phrase from Obama himself, this is a teaching moment for Black Americans, one that has come at great cost, but which can prove quite insightful going forward. And again - this ain't just about Obama - it's about Black political leadership, accross the board. Again, please read my post that I linked to above, you'll see what I mean.


Jordan Henderson said...

I'm not sure the model of politics where you vote for the guy who serves your own interests is sustainable.

Ultimately, it leads to more outrageous lies by politicians as they try to serve a large enough body of people with conflicting interests to get elected. Which leads to a cynical electorate.

Here's a transcript of an interview I heard on NPR with Senator Bennett, defeated by Tea Party activists. The interesting part, to my mind, I excerpt here:

NORRIS: You know, when people say you've been in Washington too long, it seems like you as an incumbent could point to buildings and bridges and other things that you've delivered for your state.

Sen. BENNETT: Yeah, they hate that.

Some people are finally waking up that Governing is about principles, not just getting goodies.

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