Friday, August 12, 2011

A Liberal's Lament

I had not intended to write about it, but now that everyone else has had something to say about it, I feel that I should.

The “it” in question is a New York Times op-ed by Emory University psychologist and Democratic “messaging consultant,” Drew Westen.

Westen’s plaintive wail belongs to a new literary genre: not self-help or self-realization, but self-serving expressions of disappointment in a god who failed. Not just failed, but failed them.

This morning James Taranto offers an excellent analysis of the genre, concluding that liberals are disappointed in Obama because Obama has turned out to be a loser. If Obama is a loser, that makes them losers.

Many of them are caught on the horns of a dilemma. Throw America under the bus or throw Obama under the bus.

If America, your line should be that Obama is too good for the uncouth imbeciles who cast their votes for him. If Obama, then he has not turned out to be as pure a liberal as they imagined.

Barack Obama has thrown liberals into agonized bouts of soul-searching. They need to find a way to explain Obama’s failure without admitting that their own adherence to liberal politics has made him and them losers.

I and others have made the point before: Barack Obama is the perfect embodiment of modern leftist thinking. He was, as many of his supporters declared, the incarnate Idea, that is, the Savior.

When first I read Westen’s article I decided not to say anything about it. Frankly, I found it to be an embarrassment, any why expose yourself or anyone else to Westen’s embarrassment.

It did not suffice Drew Westen to be a psychologist. He was using his academic credentials, those that made him a scientist, to express his wish to become a political hack.

Were you to ask him, he would probably brand himself an aspiring philosopher-king. His thinly-veiled argument makes him more like  man who believes that he should be behind the throne pulling the strings.

Alas and alack, Westen whines, if only Obama had listened to me, if only he had taken my brilliant advice, if only he had been the man he tricked me into thinking he was.

Being self-aware, Westen admits to having been duped by Obama.

In an oft-quoted passage, he explains how he was blinded by Obama’s shtick: “A … possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted ‘present‘ (instead of ‘yea‘ or ‘nay‘) 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.”

One rejoices that Westen has finally seen the light, but, after all, these charges have been around from the beginning. Aspiring political hacks like Drew Westen simply chose to ignore the all-too-obvious.

Barack Obama is not the Messiah. He is not going to cause the Heavenly Jerusalem to descend on the earth. He is just another political hack, with only one real distinction: his utter lack of qualifications for his office.

Of course, Westen does not want to admit that he was duped; he prefers the standard liberal line… namely, that Obama has failed liberalism or progressivism or whatever the left is calling itself these days.

But this is not the most embarrassing part.

That honor goes to the substance of Westen’s argument. He declares, with utter seriousness, that Obama’s problem is that he has not been a good enough storyteller.

Obama should have acted like a mother who sat her obstreperous children down and read them a good bedtime story. Westen’s thinks that that would have solved Obama’s political problems.

In truth, Obama is failing because he has been nothing but a storyteller. As Caroline Glick explained with utmost clarity, Obama’s approach to the crisis in the Middle East has been posturing and attitude in place of a coherent policy.

Westen may not be willing to articulate it, but he says the same thing when he complains that he does not know what Obama believes.

In his words: “Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a ‘balanced‘ approach to deficit reduction, one that weds ‘revenue enhancements‘ (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling.”

Westen does not seem to understand that if you have no policy, your political storytelling will never be anything but incoherent and inconsistent.

Perhaps because he lives within an ivory tower, Westen is not in very close touch with reality. Saying that Obama has not failed to blame everything on George Bush, Congressional Republicans and Wall Street fat cats beggars belief.

In truth, Obama has done nothing but blame the opposition. That is really all he knows how to do.

Obama is not failing and flailing because he has never identified the “villains,” as Westen would like him to do, but because his obsession with demonizing the opposition-- trait that Westen shares-- has merely served to divide the country.

Ironically, most of the demonized fat cat Wall Street bankers supported Barack Obama’s candidacy.

By now, everyone knows that it is dishonest to place blame solely on Republicans. How blind do you have to be to complain about deregulation, as Westen does, without noticing that Robert Rubin and Bill Clinton engineered the repeal of Glass-Steagall?

Failing to note the role that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, directed largely by Democratic Party hacks, played in the crisis makes Westen dishonest.

He would do well to read Gretchen Morgenson and Josh Rogin’s book: Reckless Endangerment.

For whatever reason, Westen has no real use for facts. Emotions are his bailiwick and he uses up the space that the Times gave him to bemoan the fact that Obama is not better at manipulating emotions. Apparently, he believes that the best way to do so is to ignore the facts.

Westen himself is a prime example of someone who is being led around by his emotions, at the expense of his ability to appraise facts rationally.

As Taranto explained: “Mr. Westen errs in assuming that normal American adults are as easily enthralled as he is by political fairy tales. He also criticizes the president for not having dispensed with opposition by instructing congressional Republicans in 2009 ‘that this would not be a power-sharing arrangement.’ Was he asleep when the ObamaCare steamroller went by?”

This is why Westen’s essay is so embarrassing. He complains that Obama was not sufficiently confrontational and dismissive when dealing with Congressional Republicans during the first two years of his administration, when the truth is that he was nothing but confrontational and dismissive. ObamaCare passed with no Republican votes.

When Westen complains that Americans care more about jobs than about deficits or anything else, he fails to notice that Obama spent the better part of his first two years ignoring the jobs issue in favor of ObamaCare an other liberal wish fulfillments.

But how did it happen that a “scientist” like Westen could have been so thoroughly duped by Obama.

The answer lies hidden in the following sentence: “Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in ‘Dreams From My Father‘ appended a chapter at the end that wasn’t there — the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.”

Westen fell for Obama because he saw Obama as someone who had completed psychotherapy. He was happy to hold up the example of Barack Obama as a goal toward which therapy patients should aspire.

The life story that filled the pages of “Dreams From My Father” was a therapeutic excursion. It does not, however, contain the last chapter where the patient “resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.”

This did not bother Westen. He simply imagined that it was there.

If it had been written, and if Obama had attained to the therapeutic outcome that Westen desired, nothing about the kind of self-awareness he describes makes anyone apt or capable of either setting or conducting policy.

Even if Obama had had this final therapeutic epiphany, it would have been fool’s gold. Resolving your identity and adopting a belief system does not teach you how to function in the world.

What it does do, and what psychoanalytic therapy has long maintained that it ought to do, is to show you how to tell your life story.

As a psychologist, Westen seems to have been snookered by what he saw as an autobiography that could only have been written by someone who had completed therapy.

How could it happen, Westen is opining, that someone like him, a professional psychologist, can think that an exemplary therapy patient does not know how to tell a good story? Could it be that Obama did not have enough therapy?

Of course, this is a puzzle only if you are sufficiently naïve to believe that Obama actually wrote his book.

As it happens, and as Westen seems unconsciously to recognize, nothing in Obama’s background, not a single piece of writing, suggests that he did.

It’s bad enough that Obama is shaking Westen’s faith in liberalism. He is not going to allow Barack Obama to shake his faith in psychotherapy. A good therapy patient may not know how to conduct policy, but he must know how to tell a good story, regardless of whether or not it is true.

If Obama cannot do that, then perhaps he did not really complete his therapy. Or perhaps his autobiography was really written by someone else, someone who had undergone the proper therapy.


Anonymous said...

Victor Davis Hanson has an interesting piece about how the left is trying to separate Obama from liberalism b/c his poll numbers are so bad.

"...if one suddenly blames Obama the man, rather than Obama the ideologue, then his unpopularity is his own, not liberalism’s."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you... it's an excellent piece.

Robert Pearson said...

This is as painful to watch as a train wreck. I am astounded that Drew Westen would publish this under his own name, with his bare face hanging out, so to's a quote from the man himself (at his Wiki page):

Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want... Everyone... may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret 'the facts.'

So after "25 years" of "research" he admits that he fell into the same trap, like stepping off a log.

I closely read Dreams too, and whether he actually write it or not, Obama did "resolve[] his identity." He became an American Black man with the received grievances from the likes of the liberal faculty and Jeremiah Wright. It was NOT who he "really" was, it was a conscious choice. Anyone with a smattering of historical knowledge should have been able to reason from there about how he was going to unite ("there is no Red and Blue") America...

Finally, our Drew seems to have had quite a good education: B.A. from Harvard University, an M.A. in Social and Political Thought from the University of Sussex (England); and yet if he had even a smattering of reading the Greeks he would have known that no man is a God, much less any politician.

Even my grandfather, with his sixth-grade education, was able to fluently declaim on that.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I am not so sure how good an education you get at these places today. So I question the value of the credentials. I agree with you about O's identity... rather clear.

I think that the reason he is so clueless about how much he embarrassed himself is that he lives in a world where there is only one point of view.

Last night someone on television said that Obama had read the article and was very taken with it.

Robert Pearson said...

I am not so sure how good an education you get at these places today.

A point well taken. But should not he have at least run into Dr. Faustus at some point?

Anyway, June 3, 2008: "[T]his was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal..."

I heard that live, and literally didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I laughed.

I have friends who seem to worship Sarah Palin in a similar way. I try to give them a Reality Pill, too. Maybe in another generation this will be known as the Age of Hubris.

Dennis said...

The long slow death of a dysfunctional philosophy and individuals who seem not to understand that to keep trying the same failed ideas is madness.
If one spends a bit of time studying history and different cultures one sees that the only real difference, in most cases, is the technology and all that that provides to a people. People lust after the same things. A failed idea, such as Leftism, or whatever one chooses to call it, will NOT find better more competent people to make it work this time. As we used to say in the military, "One can polish a turd all one wants, but it is still a turd."
Doesn't anyone find it instructive that behind every poor policy, financial disaster, et al there is a graduate of Harvard, Columbia or whatever is considered an elite educational institution making it worse? One only needs to look at the track record of graduates from these so call prestigious universities for the last 60 years to see abject failure in almost any field that affects the governing of a free peoples. Obama has leaned very heavily on "academe' and academe has been far less than competent.
It would seem that sitting in the 'pews" at Harvard, et al would be not much different that sitting in the "pews" listening to Jeremiah Write. In a way the same disastrous philosophies being espoused without consideration of the effectiveness of those philosophies and/or the damage caused by them.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Lately, I've been hearing from people in the business world that they no longer want to hire Ivy League grads, especially male Ivy League grads.

They find that students who went to state schools come out with a better work ethic, more initiative, and better focus.

Ivy League grads tend to think that a job is a place where they can find themselves. This makes their bosses very angry and ruins the reputation that these schools have enjoyed.

So, maybe a few people are seeing through the racket that those schools have become.

I was also thinking about Robert's reaction to that Obama line about the oceans and the planets... How many people took that seriously. How many thought that it was a great rhetorical flourish. I fear that quite a lot did. It's pathetic.

I would almost bet that colleges no longer teach Dr. Faustus... too much a part of the white male canon!!

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