Thursday, August 23, 2012

Obama's Overconfidence Game

When future historians look back at the Obama administration, they will need to explain how a man with so little experience and no demonstrated competence managed to become President of the United States.

In 2008 the Obama mania did not just infect people who did not know any better. People who should have known better, corporate leaders who would never have considered Barack Obama for high executive position in their own companies happily jumped on the Obama bandwagon.

How did so many people get fooled by so little?

Already, neuroscientists are addressing the question, though not in political terms. I suspect that they are not yet aware of the political implications of their research.  

I defy anyone to read the Time Magazine report on new research into the effects of overconfidence and not think of Barack Obama.

Maia Szalavitz writes:

The first study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, explored the positive effects of overconfidence, showing that it enhances social status by presenting a false image of competence. If you’ve ever wondered how the utterly clueless rise to the top, or why managers often seem to make worse decisions than dart-throwing bonobos, this research provides some insight.
The story continues:

In other words, people who think they are good at something are seen as being good at it, whether or not they actually are. (Even dogs demonstrate this effect: ever watch a chihuahua intimidate a much larger dog?) Unfortunately, even in the absence of actual ability, the illusion of strength and competence that people exude makes others see them as good potential leaders.

And this:

The authors conclude that although selecting leaders is one of the most important tasks for societies and groups, “we are often forced to rely on proxies for ability such as individuals’ confidence. In so doing, we as a society create incentives for those who would seek status to display more confidence than their actual ability merits.” That, of course, leaves us vulnerable to picking those who can best exhibit confidence, not competence.

It’s normal to confuse overconfidence with competence. But, when hiring someone for your company you will want to see some substantive proof of competence. Overconfidence is nice, but it must be tested against reality.

Two interesting questions arise here.

First, how does someone become so convinced of his ability that his overconfidence can con other people?

People are not born overconfident; they are made overconfident. Overconfidence does not just well up from the depths of your soul.

Most likely, an individual who is overconfident was pampered and spoiled throughout most of his life. If he was constantly told that he was the best and that he could do no wrong, then he never had to learn how to deal with failure or inadequacy.

In his case overconfidence involves an inability to accept the judgment of reality.

Where a normal con man, a Bernard Madoff, knows that he is a fraud, someone who suffers from overconfidence actually believes that he is as good as people say he is. 

Cocky and arrogant he believes in himself, no matter what. He does not believe, not even in the depths of his soul, that he is trying to defraud people.

He persuades others because he holds to his overconfidence with complete and unshakable conviction.

Yet, overconfidence needs care and tending. Someone whose confidence outstrips his accomplishments must surround himself with flunkies and sycophants, people who believe in him as much as he does.

And he must also learn how to deny facts that would undermine his overconfidence, either by blaming others for his failures or by convincing himself that everything is always the best.

Second, in politics the overconfidence game requires significant support from the media.

During Obama's first run for the presidency, the media presented him exactly as he saw himself. It expressed complete and unwavering confidence in his ability to do the job.

The media kept repeating the story and kept slanting the news so that finally everyday Americans came to believe it to be a fact.
An overconfident individual makes a good first impression. If we are reasonably astute and we have the time we can see through the illusion.

Yet, when a climate of opinion keeps insisting that overconfidence is well grounded, deviating from that opinion will make you feel like an outsider.

Obviously, not everyone was conned by Barack Obama’s overconfidence.

Today, an Obama record does exist. The state of the nation cannot be blamed on the Bush administration. Even the press has woken up and seen the reality behind the overconfidence.

The press loved Barack Obama but it loves itself more. As it loses more and more business it seems to be asking itself whether it wants to to go down with the good ship Obama. More and more, the major media are refusing to play Obama's overconfidence game.


Anonymous said...

'Yet, when a climate of opinion keeps insisting that overconfidence is well grounded, deviating from that opinion will make you feel like an outsider.'

The fact that the modern media can create a 'climate of opinion' amongst us is terrifying. Through many decades of consumer product advertising they have honed their skills at manipulating human behavior and thinking. I find this to be quite sinister.

Katielee4211 said...

Which leaves the question: Why did some see through the illusion and questioned this man's experience, background and vision almost immediately? Why were they able to pick out and give relevance to the flags early on from the bits here and there? Do they see over-confidence as a flag itself, which then cue's them to focus more attention? And do they process the information [apparently] differently?
What is in the psychological,and sociological makeup of some people that are less likely to be carried away by over-confidence? Is it maybe partially because they already have a greater sense of identity?
It would make some interesting profiling.

Anonymous said...

Why did some see through the illusion and questioned this man's experience, background and vision almost immediately?

Obviously, many of them had partisan reasons to take a critical view.

There weren't as many skeptics, it seems, on the Democrat side. But even there, you'll find that many of them were aligned with some other wing of the party. Hillary supporters, for example, or people from the extreme, radical Left who had doubts about his supposed centrism.

Anonymous said...

I just recently finished "The Amateur" by Edward Klein. We knew nothing about Obama in 2008. Nothing. The overconfidence was supported by the national media. I'm not saying that John McCain was a strong candidate or ran a good campaign, but it is instructive to look at the brutal shellacking Sarah Palin took from the mainstream media and compare it to the swooning over every word uttered by The One. It's night and day, and there's only one explanation for it: it was intentional.

The media, for all their vaunted principles about "ethics," did not vet the man. They claim to be the Republic's "Fourth Estate," supporting the ideal of an informed citizenry. That disappeared long ago. My journalistic model has always been the cynical skeptic, someone who didn't drink Kool-Aid and would relentlessly dig, dig, dig until he/she found the truth. This type of journalist is largely gone, and the shame of being a naked partisan shill hath vanished. We now have people who parrot press releases and press secretaries, report reports, and read polls. They don't ask tough questions for fear of losing access. No dignity, no shame. In short, the profession is played for the fools they've become. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they've been under some kind of a spell the last four years, but the truth is that Obama's ideology aligns too perfectly with their own for this to be a mistake. He was their guy, the standard bearer for an ideal post-Bush society. They're ideological enablers, if not ideologues themselves.

The clear connection to Jeremiah Wright, and the Reverend's contribution to the evolution of the The One's philosophy and Chicago relationships, is the most profound stage in Obama's development. NBC is running hour-long specials on Romney's Mormon religion, but Obama's own religious/faith formation somehow became off-limits after his Philadelphia speech. Whatever happened to courage?

Yet after reading Klein's book, I suspect the reason for the Obamas' undoing will be their snobbery and secrecy. They are not real. There's no there there. They don't connect with the people they claim to stand for. The real villains in the book seems to be the women in his life. Michelle sounds like an angry, insecure woman, and the press have abetted the White House's PR cleansing operation about her. But the oddest element is the President's relationship with Valerie Jarrett. We heard a cacophony of nonsense about Karl Rove's machinations in the Bush White House. Jarrett seems to be the First Family's gatekeeper and marionette puppeteer. I'm struck that Michelle Obama's "best friend" and Barack Obama's "most trusted advisor" are the same person. That's unsettling. There's a lot of unchecked power there.

For all their narcissism, the Clintons had/have their own brand of overconfidence. Then again, Bill demonstrated some competence as a state executive, and then stepped into the big show and emerged as a man with unmatched political skill. For all the "overconfidence," I think the Clintons have one element that keeps them in check and ensures their longevity: paranoia.

Klein's book is a quick read and quite interesting. Not a lot of new ground, but it's a quick compendium of what's up with Barack Obama's character. It's built on overconfidence. I suspect the man has not learned a single thing since he left the university.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you so much for the comments, Anon. You write exceptionally well, so I assume that you write professionally. If you don't, you should.

Sam L. said...

Many of us outside the circle , with enough distance to not be distracted, disarmed, and confused by the fog machines had no trouble seeing Barry as Oakland (no "there", there).

And Barry, MO, and Valerie: a triad, a threesome, or a Gang Of Three?

Anonymous said...

Sam L.:

I hear you on the "Gang of Three," but it is unnerving to me that it is not exposed. I am a news junkie, and I hear nary a peep about Valerie Jarrett, or "V.J." as she is known. If we are to trust "The Amateur," she has immense control over access to President Obama, and sits in on the full range of policy meetings and conversations with him. The Chicago people (Michelle Obama, Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, et al) are a very insular, secretive group. And V.J. is the leader, and she is tough. I remember hearing "Karl Rove does this," and "Karl Rove does that" and "Karl Rove is a master of the dark arts," and "Karl Rove can levitate" and all kinds of similar nonsense. PBS did a hour-long profile on him called "The Architect." Yet you hear nothing about Valerie Jarrett. Nothing. It's preposterous. And the reason is... she controls access to the President. That's a lot of power for an unelected, unscrutinized White House operator. Fog machines, indeed.