Saturday, September 03, 2011

Obama the Man

[To new visitors: the email that has circulated for two and a half years under my name comparing President Obama to Hitler is a forgery. I do not agree with it. You are however encouraged to read a post or two here. To all posters: as I announced more than a year ago, comments that are abusive and anonymous are deleted.

After last week's post I did a great deal of thinking, and at length I have decided to address a topic I have generally stayed away from. I spent a lot of time in the early days of this blog (fall 2004) analyzing George W. Bush's personality; I have spent much less time on Barack Obama's, partly, I suppose, because I wished him success. Yet he is not succeeding, and it won't do any good to ignore elephants in the room. Barack Obama's personality is in many ways the opposite of what his bitterest opponents think, but it is getting away of effective governance all the same. And while I have never met him and probably never will, there's no reason why I shouldn't use insights from Alice Miller and elsewhere on him as well.

A year or two ago I was talking on the phone with a very interesting friend of mine and the television show The Wire came up. I asked him who his favorite character was. For the benefit of those of who who watched that amazing show, my favorite was Lester, the quiet, highly intelligent Boomer who had never wanted, or risen to, a position of authority, but who took intense pleasure in running down the details of the case. If you've ever read any of my books you'll know why I liked him. I can't remember who my friend's favorite character was, but I told him I had read recently that Barack Obama liked the show, and his favorite character was Omar. Omar was an Xer, like the President, and an anarchist. He wasn't a drug dealer, but he made his living with a couple of friends robbing drug dealers. He was also gay, and he helped kill Stringer Bell, the drug kingpin who took classes at the local business school, after Bell killed a lover of his. "Well, I can see why Obama loves Omar," my friend said, "because he obviously has a fantasy of. . .shooting everybody." I had to think about that one for a long time.

I haven't yet had time to read the biography of Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham, but the reviews were very informative. The childhood of many Gen Xers was marked by divorce, moves, economic turmoil, and growing up much too fast. Obama's childhood had all that, plus a few years living in a distant third world country--an experience which is not easy even if you are living in an embassy residence, as I was, and which he most certainly was not. His mother had two husbands and a number of other men, it seems, in her life. When he was ten he returned to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. Both his mother and his grandparents evidently made clear, however, that they had great hopes for him, and he responded. Punahou School is the Sidwell Friends of Hawaii, and he evidently performed well enough to go first to a good liberal arts college in California and then as a transfer student to Columbia. Then came his two years as a community organizer--which seem to have had almost no effect on him--Harvard Law School, the Harvard Law Review, and his legal and political career in Chicago.

All this sounds very easy, but I think that is profoundly misleading. Barack Obama as a child and young man had to prove that he could put up with anything and still perform as expected, and he did. He indulged in some outlaw behavior in high school but never seems to have been directly rebellious against his parent or grandparents. He became President of the Law Review by emerging a conciliator, winning support from conservative and liberal factions. Let us not kid ourselves: no one has ever run for President, ever, who did not have an enormous need for personal recognition. That often comes, as Alice Miller pointed out, from childhood trauma. And it can create highly adaptable personalities, of which Obama seems to be one.

There are at least two episodes in Obama's adult life which, while they have gotten some attention, have gotten it from the wrong angle. One is his membership in Jeremiah Wright's church. When Wright's sermons came to public attention in 2008, conservatives eagerly argued that they represented Obama's own views. They obviously didn't--but there's the problem. Wright's church was politically visible, and Obama found it expedient to join it, even though he evidently does not think like Wright at all. This was another adaptation.

The second episode is Obama's fascination with former Harvard President Larry Summers, who is known to all who have dealt with him as one of the most personally difficult people on earth. The Kennedy White House initially included some one quite similar to Summers, another economist, Walt Rostow, who knew exactly what should be done in any situation and why. Rostow lasted less than a year in the White House because JFK did not want to listen, apparently, to that kind of man. (He returned to the White House, disastrously, under LBJ.) But Obama did not mind working with Summers for two years. I was so shocked by Summers's original appointment that I really went into denial over it and hoped for the best--but Summers was very influential in selling the President on the new economic orthodoxy. He believed that only monetary problems had caused the Great Depression, and that easy monetary problems could solve the crisis we faced in 2009. He also did not want to undo any of the deregulatory reforms he had helped push through under Clinton. He was terribly wrong on both counts and Obama is paying a terrible price for listening to him.

As I think about these issues, I wonder whether Obama's accommodating nature may also be the key to his puzzling treatment of the Clintons. The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was surprising but many explained it in an Abraham Lincoln sort of way, as a means to co-opt his leading rival within his own party. But that was only the first of many, many key appointments of veterans of the Clinton Administration--in other words, of the Democratic establishment. Obama has not wanted to put his own stamp on things. He has not, unlike FDR or JFK, made national figures out of virtual unknowns like Robert McNamara or Harry Hopkins or Harold Ickes. He has also, as I have noted, failed to inspire those around him, many of whom have already left the Administration. Even his Supreme Court appointments are moderate liberals, well to the right of Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, or Thurgood Marshall.

Some one who has had to repress his deepest feelings all his life loses touch with them, and finds it easier to rely on conventional wisdom than on his own eyes. If like Obama he is something of an outsider, he learns to take advantage of the fear he might arouse, as he did, perhaps, at Harvard Law. But what worked with the conservatives among his fellow law students has not worked with John Boehner and Eric Cantor. Even to fight these Republicans to a draw, rather than steadily retreat before their onslaught, would have required a completely different approach, one of which, as yet, he has proven incapable. I will be delighted but very surprised if this week's speech marks a real departure.

There is no doubt that I will be voting for Barack Obama a year from November. He believes in rationality, in some measure of equality at least, in science, in the separation of church and state, and in at least some of the achievements of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society. He will probably face an opponent who believes in none of those things, leaving me with a very easy choice. Yet I do not think at this point that his re-election will put the United States on a new path. The best it could do would be to calm our political climate, put the disastrous crisis of the last ten years behind us, and allow for some problem solving to begin at least at the local level. But that is much much better than what a Republican victory would mean.


James50 said...

I agree with your well written sentiments although have not decided who to vote for. I have another way of saying what you have said from a psychological/spiritual perspective.

Consider the enneagram. Campaigning as a confronter leader (type 8) and governing as a peacemaker (type 9) is not the way to inspire confidence. It feels like one or the other was disingenuous.

galacticsurfer said...

so a boring uncreative administrator type, not a leader with real opinons. For a black man to get into the white house it would seem to be the only way to do it. Imagine Jesse Jackson trying to get in. Merkel in Germany as first woman Chancellor is a soulless academic bureaucratic manager in the same vein. Watching paint dry is more fun.

Andy Hailey said...

Obama will be the only choice for my vote, but even if he is re-elected, what kind of Congress will he have to work with/against? To what level will the right-wing authoritarians ratchet up their rebellion and their billions? Those who didn't even want him elected once will become even more angry and convinced that our government is completely "evil." Pandora's box, which has been unlocked and cracked open with Obama's election, may just explode.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how often do I ask myself if we wouldn't have been better off with Hilary! I never cared for her, but she did have a lot of nerve and would've fought claw and tooth against the opposition for whatever she believed was right.

NKB said...

We progressives fell hook, line, and sinker for Barack Obama not for his accomplishments - he had so few - but because he was a perfect projection of our collective wishes and even fantasies: educated, rational, seemingly clever, liberal and let's not forget black (sort of).

The man was, is, and always will be about himself and his desire for affirmation and power. Not a bad thing, surely, when one has core principles to fall back on. Far as I can tell, however, Obama has very few of those.

What happens next is fascinating. He is functionally a lame duck already. Congressional Democrats are running from him, and no wonder why. I cannot imagine how Obama can get reelected, unless the Republicans somehow nominate someone clinically and visibly insane like Michelle Bachmann (even the GOP isn't that brain-dead).

So we shall have Rick Perry as the next President. This fills me with dread, but it's interesting because, just like Obama in mirror image, Perry appears virtually the embodiment of core "conservative" values today (faith! free markets! guns! screw liberals!) in a manner that would be funny in a different universe. Also like Obama, if one wanted to genetically engineer someone to make his political opponents go crazy and foam at the mouth, you'd create someone very like Perry.

There is, however, one big difference. Perry is a very experienced political operator, he gets things done in a pretty ruthless manner, he's never lost an election.

Progressives better be prepared to ride out the Perry years, which will be like Bush, but led by someone who really believes all that crazy stuff, no act, and hates us with an abiding passion - nothing "compassionate" about his conservatism.

And we have really no one to blame for this but ourselves by choosing a fake like Obama, a collective fantasy, as President, when we had better options. We blew a once-a-generation opportunity to turn back the GOP tide that had been building since the late 1970s and actually restore something like FDR's values.

Makes me want to cry ... but we need to look in the mirror here.

Chris said...

Is it conceivable that, if the Republican party is able to succeed in electing a Tea Party president, or at least one who is sympathetic to their particularly potent brand of kool-aid, and continue to co-opt the House, that an agenda so radical would alienate all but the most right wing or ignorant conservatives? That is to say, I wonder whether allowing such an extreme agenda to continue would be the best (only?) way to actually show how untenable it truly is.

Obviously the damage would be enormous, but the likelihood of America, or any country, maintaining a globally dominant position is increasingly slim as systems we have taken for granted (energy, finance, water/agriculture) begin to shudder under the enormous strain we put them under.

Bob in NC said...

Dear Professor and your progressive/biberal followers,
I too, am appallled by Pres Obama's lack of courage and, may IO say it, principles.
Please DO NOT vote for him again.
Much better to resurrect Hillary Clinton as Dem candidate in 2012.
She has demonstrated the strength, fortitude, intelligence and, may I say it, BALLS, to do the right thing for our tired and confused Nation.

Lani said...

Your blog is very well written and I think you hit the nail on the head.Thank you!!!

Brent Clanton said...

I appreciate your comments and perspective, but must tell you I disagree fundamentally with your position. A vote for Obama in 2012 will not put the past decade's disasters behind us, but instead prolong the pain and wrong-headed direction of the nation (there is no leadership in the Obama administration, and therein lies its fundamental flaw.)

The 2012 election is the Republicans' to lose, which is still possible by their continual bungling and cannibalistic behavior.

Please continue your thought-provoking essays; the intellectual stimulation is a welcome reprieve from the current vacuum of thoughtless "me-too" ism and us-vs- them-at-any-cost mentality that is now in vogue.

Robert Kelly-Schleyer said...


I beg you to read and comment upon former GOP operative Mike Lofgren's "confession," published Saturday (3rd of September) in Truthout. Please! Please read it!

You can find it @

As depressed, and as pessimistic as I've become about America's future, Mr. Lofgren's words give me some hope...if he, from within the belly of the beast, can change his thinking, then perhaps others can too.

Robert Schleyer

daddio said...

I feel this was one I had to respond back on.

Hello Bonnie;

It's Tom, I haven't seen you in quite a while! I hope you & the family are doing fine.

Hey Girlfriend, you sent this to me & I usually don't answer any of these political emails from my friends but I did read it! All of it....And I thought to myself, why would such an educated man write something so foolish as this??????

I really wanted to know the answer so I looked it up & I was very interested in what I had found. Not because it was a fake, I knew that when I read it.

I was very interested in reading the true thought's and writings of such a learned man of this caliper.

I didn't know this man's politics, I had never heard of Him. I try to do exactly as the email ask. Read the whole email. Not make a judgement & have an open mind while reading it. I only ask the same on the link below!

I will paste the link below of the truth of this man's writings.
"History Unfolding" by"David Kaiser!" Just click on the blue underlined link below.
Notice the date on his Blog, September 3, 2011 when it opens. That is 3 day's ago!!!!

There you will find "What if He's right" truly had to say in his Blog / article. If you really want to know what he thinks it's a Great Read. I hope everyone will take the time to read all of it.

It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat, Republican or Independent. We are all God's Children in "The Good Book!" A Black Child grows hungry, gets cold, laughs and cried just exactly the same as A White Child, Red Child, Yellow Child on & on!

I found Him to be a very educated man.
Please let me know what you think of his thought's!!!!
Bonnie, I love you & all those around you. I'm sure you know this.
Our Country is so completely divided. I pray every day that the people of our
Country will educate themselves with the truth of what the problems really are in this,"The Greatest Country In The World!"

The email you sent to me is right about one thing "David Kaiser" is "A VERY EDUCATED MAN!"
I wish everyone would take the time to read His Writing & Understand Them. I did and I agree with almost all of what "David Kaiser" has wrote in The Real Blog Below.
Thank you for introducing me to His Wealth of Knowledge...:-)

Please take the time to read this link. We may not always agree but a man's word
is just that....."His," This has to stop!

God Bless You,


History Unfolding - CachedSimilar
You +1'd this publicly. Undo
[To new visitors: the email that has circulated for two and a half years under my name comparing President .... posted by David Kaiser at 9:14 AM 3 comments ...

Anonymous said...

A perspective of a voter in Illinois pertaining
to lay off of some state unionized workers:

This is a democrat state run entirely by democrats,
for democrats and the coffers are empty. Shock.
Now the natural course is being played out. Layoffs,
lawsuits by unions, gangs gone wild in Chicago,
higher and higher taxes. The only mystery is how
they will blame it all on republicans or the tea party
and have the uneducated believe that the tea party
is the enemy and not themselves. This is ALWAYS
the tactic of the corrupt: get a common enemy to
hate so your own will not turn on you. Notice the
drone of the sycophants who keep saying the tea
party is the enemy witout ANY justification, in an effort to say a lie long enough it will become true.
- Charles Larrison

Anonymous said...

I had high hopes for the President, but he just hasn't got the political experience (or backbone) that Mrs. Clinton has. I voted for her in the primaries, but we got what we got and there was no way I would vote for an R.
He's too willing to compromise. It's a nice thought, but it doesn't work that way in Washington any longer. After the first year in office (or sooner) he should have given up on the dream of compromise.

Injury Compensation Ireland said...

These issues are too technical for me to grab sometimes but this
article was definitely a help.

Anonymous said...

Fire somebody. No -- fire a lot of people. This may
be news to you but this is not going well. For
precedent, see Russian Army 64th division at
Stalingrad. There were enough deaths at Stalingrad
to make the entire tea party collectively orgasm.

Mr. President, your hinge of fate must turn. Bill
Clinton fired many people in 1994 and took a lot of
heat for it. Reagan fired most of his campaign staff
in 1980. Republicans historically fired their own
speaker, Newt Gingrich. Bush fired Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. For God's sake, why
are we still looking at the same political and
economic advisers that got us into this mess?
It's not working.

Furthermore, it's not going to work with the same
team, the same strategy and the same excuses.
I know economic analysts are smart -- some work
17-hour days. It's time to show them the exit.
Wake up -- show us you are doing something.
- James Carville

Anonymous said...

Here's a book for you:

Book Details Dissension in Obama Economic Team

GJV said...

What a great picture of how history plays in the present time.
I wasn't able to clear my mind for a candidate. I think that all the candidates, currently professed to run, are poor examples of intellect.
I also liked the end of your post when you talk briefly about the prognosis for humanities longevity. We are here by geological permission