Sunday, August 07, 2011

Diagnosing Obama

Distressed by George W. Bush, even those of us who try to resist psychobabble eventually succumbed to seeing him as a reformed drunk who had found God and was punishing the nation with the limitations of his uncomprehending new-found piety.

Now Drew Westen, a practicing psychologist and political consultant, offers a diagnosis of Barack Obama that, in all fairness, deserves similar consideration--of how he took office in a frightening time when Americans “needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.

“And perhaps most important, it would have offered a clear, compelling alternative to the dominant narrative of the right...that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it.

“That story would have made clear that the president understood that the American people had given Democrats the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress to fix the mess the Republicans and Wall Street had made of the country, and that this would not be a power-sharing arrangement. It would have made clear that the problem wasn’t tax-and-spend liberalism or the deficit--a deficit that didn’t exist until George W. Bush gave nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks largely to the wealthiest Americans and squandered $1 trillion in two wars.

“But there was no story--and there has been none since.”

If that sounds like an unrealistic alternate history, it nonetheless brings into focus a picture of the Barack Obama that millions hoped for but who never came forward.

Instead, we got a more intelligent but equally misguided version of Bush’s vision of himself as a Uniter in a time that cried out for another FDR to fight against the forces that had brought the nation to the brink of economic ruin.

“Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze,” Westen writes. “Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public--a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it.

“Had the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a century...He would have had to stare down those who had wrecked the economy, and he would have had to tolerate their hatred if not welcome it. But the arc of his temperament just didn’t bend that far.”

Now, bloodied not as a warrior in the debt-ceiling battle but as an ineffectual bystander, the President faces reelection trying to “recapture the political center” and “continues to struggle to win back the support of moderate and independent voters, polls show.”

But Barack Obama’s problem has less to do with left, right and center than with his psychological resistance to taking on that role of warrior against political and economic madness. A close study of what FDR and even Harry Truman did under similar circumstances might rouse him out of his mediating trance.

He should have learned by now that, if you are going to lose crucial battles, it’s best to go down fighting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you want to know "what happened to Obama" all you need to do is look at who financed his campaign.

Follow the money . . .