Flat White

The imaginary man

17 July 2018

7:48 AM

17 July 2018

7:48 AM

You may have noticed the recent Weekend Australian Magazine piece former US President, Barack Obama. The article, by Gabriel Debenedetti, titled ‘Disappearing Act’, originally appeared in the New York Magazine in June under the title Where Is Barack Obama – The most popular American, whose legacy is the primary target of Donald Trump, has, for now, virtually disappeared from public life’.

The article was complete with flattering photos of the former President looking thoughtful, playful, husbandly, the way the media rarely portrayed Bush or the current President. The imagery in the original story is even more sycophantic, going through the motions the media employed during Obama’s presidency with more pictures showing him as the coolest guy on the planet.

The piece was a fascinating read. Not because it was new, insightful or accurate but because it gives an excellent window into the mindset of left-leaning journalists and their view of the world. The unexamined assumptions, the certainty of belief that they speak for the American mainstream and most of all, their love affair with an imaginary man that never really existed.

It is in the main a pouty article, whinging about how Obama isn’t doing much to help out the Democrats, protect his legacy or help get other Democrats elected. Sad I know but there you are. It starts out with how concerned Obama was with Trump giving an overtly political speech at a Boy Scout Jamboree (read on his iPad no less, cool insert there) commenting on how impressionable children were at that age. I suppose he’d have been less concerned if Trump had been telling them who could and couldn’t use what bathrooms in their schools, which apparently is fine.

Here are a few of the highlights to give you some of the flavours of the author’s concepts. Put on some of that sad sounding violin music in the background you hear in documentaries as you listen and you’ll get an idea of how you were meant to feel while reading it.

Where is the man who cried after Sandy Hook and sang in Charleston, who after each mass shooting tried to soothe an outraged nation, who spoke of American values in his travels across the globe? And, tactically, what is behind the relative silence of one of the most popular figures alive just as American politics appears to so many to be on the brink of breaking?

Most popular figure alive? Sure if you’re conducting a survey at ABC headquarters in Ultimo. The suggestion that American politics is breaking is total nonsense from someone who’s been drinking from his own perpetual outrage fountain.

And while he often says he misses the day-to-day work of fixing people’s problems, he has even less patience for day-to-day politics than he did as president.

Not sure what definition of ‘fixing’ is being used here. Perhaps the Chicago politics style of ‘fixing people’ is in mind.

One of Obama’s friends repeatedly described the former president as newly “Zen-like,” a striking descriptor given that Obama’s impossible calm has been a hallmark of his entire time on the national stage.

“Zen-like”, as in a self-absorbed trance, completely unaware of the damage you’re doing to everyone around you? Perhaps it’s more like someone in an alcoholic stupor, completely unaware of how much pain you’re causing to others in your life?

To those who’ve known him longest, his confidence in the decision not to wade back into the political muck is the product of the same hyper-self-aware posture he’s had since childhood, growing up straddling worlds and then writing a book about himself in his 30s.

Hyper-self-absorbed would more accurate. Anyone who thinks they’re so awesome in their 30s that they need a book about themselves must have a god-sized ego. If he were Pitt the Younger or Alexander the Great maybe, but a law professor in a regular law professor career, nah.

According to Eric Holder, Obama’s really encouraged:

But I think it’s really been true — we’ve had conversations about this — he’s been encouraged by the amount of progressive energy he’s seen around the country.

This is code language for the usual suspects, organising the usual outrage fests with the usual fawning media coverage, so pretty much nada. If that’s your encouragement when the current administration is eviscerating your legacy, you are truly desperate. Apparently, some democrat operatives want him to get arrested, as this will really help things:

On the immigration stuff, if he were willing to go way over the line and get arrested, or something way out there, that would be a galvanizing event,” says one frustrated leading Democratic operative in the midst of the 2018 campaigns.

Yep, that’d help. Please do.

He’s been careful not to appear to be playing at international diplomacy, but people close to him believe his presence is often intended as a reassurance that the world isn’t about to end.

Without a doubt, this is the funniest line in the entire article. According to the author, world leaders (who Obama visits now and again) need assurance from The Great One that the world isn’t about to end…. for some unspecified reason. Perhaps I’m unimaginative but I just can’t imagine president Xi Jinxing wringing his hands, waiting for his special visit this week. What is far more likely is that most governmental leaders are just actually being polite to him and by extension to the American people.

Party organizers have begun complaining that his focus on his foundation is sapping the coffers they’re desperately trying to tap … Nobody expects him to be out there bashing Trump or being on the campaign trail every day. But to be sucking up resources now is just tone-deaf, and self-serving.”

It appears that Silicon Valley is giving more money to Obama’s library than to Democrat candidates and that’s really unfortunate according to the author. Either the general public isn’t interested in giving too much of their own money or the new laws restricting compulsory union membership in the public sector is severely constricting the massive tidal wave of union money regularly doled out to Democrats.

None of the above is any surprise to anyone who regularly watches politics and doesn’t let the monolithic media filter distort their vision. For Obama, it is all about Obama. It was all about his greatness as a candidate, it was all about his greatness as a president and now it’s all about his greatness as an organiser (again).

I remember following the rising candidacy of Obama with bewilderment.

Something very unusual was happening in that presidential election that had rarely happened before, at least not in my lifetime. A major political party was putting forward a candidate for presidential office with almost nothing in the way of significant achievement, either personally or in some field of endeavour. Normally presidents are those who have gained experience in some real area of life and are a proven quantity, whether it be winning a world war (like Eisenhower) or reaching significant political office, such as a governorship (like Carter or Bush). Obama had nothing to offer other than rhetoric and some books, and the results show for themselves. Obama is happy and back to doing what he loves most, living in a world of books, theories and talking, something he’s really good at. The Democrats can get as frustrated as they like but it won’t change a thing and the man they imagined him to be is gone, like a mirage in a desert.

And herein lies the real problem with author’s contentions with Obama now. He is pining for an imaginary man, a man of great ability that was never there, a man never deeply scrutinized by an adoring media, a man who tried desperately to achieve his radical goals through the administrative state and presidential decree.

The Obama administration was the most overruled by the US Supreme Court in modern history. Even his own appointments like Kagen and Sotomayer have ruled against him multiple times. In fact, he has lost unanimously before the Supreme Court fifty per cent more than his two immediate predecessors. A truly stunning indictment for someone who is meant to be a constitutional law professor, but such is the clash with reality when you constantly overreach your authority. But that is only part of his disastrous administration. He added $US8 trillion to the US national debt. Even his most fervent supporters at the New York Times admit he used bureaucratic bulldozing to try and get his way resulting in the Congress and the Supreme Court constantly blocking him. The federal agencies such as the IRS became like caricatures of a banana republic as they singled out and persecuted conservative political groups. There was the disastrous Iran Deal, the criminal Fast and Furious program, Benghazi and the persecution of whistleblowers, more than double that of all previous presidents combined.

A lot of it reminds me of the mythologising of the Kennedy administration. Shortly after his assassination, within a week apparently, Jackie Kennedy spun a great tale about JFK’s 1,000 days in office and finished with a quote from Kennedy’s favourite musical, Camelot: “Don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief, shining moment there was Camelot”. From that moment on there was no stopping the media machine, no matter the level of Kennedy’s achievements, or otherwise, he would be forever eulogised.

When it comes to the hard-nosed realities of politics, politicians invariably promise more than can be delivered. Gaining and keeping power is always the true goal and is often the goal most achievable. Likewise, there is always an element of dreaming that voters read into what can be achieved by those who are making the promises and this is particularly the case with the left as they always have the more radical goals to achieve. This was probably truer with Obama than any other politician before.

He promised good jobs to the jobless but it was Trump that made progress on that front. He said that his rise to power would slow the oceans rise and heal the planet yet did nothing of the sort because such things are beyond the power of any mortal. He promised social utopia and delivered more racial division than any politician for a generation. The media’s problem isn’t really with Obama’s lack of action in the current political fray, it is a problem with reality. The reality of an inexperienced man who promised the New Jerusalem and delivered downtown Chicago.

There is an important lesson here for Australian politics. More and more we are seeing party operatives and machine men put forward for election. Oftentimes these people have uncanny similarities to Obama; little real-world experience, often having gone from university to political or union jobs, not learning how to negotiate real life but how to negotiate a factional deal.

These people are very keen to make taxation rules that apply to others without ever having to suffer the consequences of those decisions themselves. They live in the world of theory, the world of intersectionality, a realm of grievance appeasement and media tomfoolery. Always seeking a headline instead of making headway.

People such as this make appalling decisions as our current energy debacle clearly shows. A person who knows what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet and pay a power bill (without access to a slush fund) would be far less likely to implement an energy policy that has tripled power bills, no matter how much they are badgered by journalists and politicians.

If you get the impression that politicians live in an alternative reality, you’re partly right, they do. The Westminster system doesn’t allow for such larger-than-life creations like Obama but we can learn from the mistake. Don’t allow the media to create distorted figures for public consumption, be suspicious if they show no interest in what they’ve actually achieved and always attempt to deflect your attention to their future promises. You’ll save yourself and your children immense heartache, difficulty and cost.

Stephen Cable writes at cablecritique.com and for Liberty Works.

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