(Swans - April 5, 2010) Living in the age of stupidity, I find myself with a weakness for collecting specimens of stupidity. Nabokov had his butterflies, but, alas, I have only these. So I thought I might share a few. Here's a nice one on the left. Alexander Cockburn writes over there at Counterpunch:
Why did Obama blow his first year? Politicians have a touching trait of often coming to believe their own campaign rhetoric, even when it's being greeted with cynical guffaws by the cognoscenti. Having made his name and won his votes by pledging to rise above faction and draw the American people together, Obama extended the hand of bipartisanship to the Republicans and spent the following months seemingly fuddled as the Republicans chewed off his arm, inch by inch.
So, let's see. We're supposed to believe that Obama came to believe his own campaign rhetoric, namely that he wanted to "extend the hand of bipartisanship to the Republicans." Think about that for a minute. Obama is a man who now wants to be bipartisan. Is this a big goal, a passionate desire -- the desire for us all to make up and be friends? Is that who we've elected president, the creepiest kid on the block? We are supposed to think that Obama cleverly divined (campaign rhetoric) that people voted for him because they wanted everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, to make up and be friends regardless of what anybody did to anybody. Nobody really cared about what Cheney & Co. actually did. We all wanted to just let bygones be bygones. And Obama, seeing that we all really wanted such a creepy thing, vowed cleverly to give it to us, not really intending to do so.
But now, carried away by waves of idealism, Obama believes his own campaign rhetoric in spite of a sprinkling of "guffaws by the cognoscenti," and stupidly actually does what he said he'd do, namely try to make friends with the Republicans. On how many levels is this insane? Did one single soul in the entire country vote for Obama because he thought he would make friends with the Republicans? Was Obama then really only pretending, as candidates inevitably do, to have the completely icky desire to get us to stop quarreling with Cheney & Co., but now, intoxicated by being president, is falling for his own rhetoric so that he actually has become that person who harbors that icky desire to brush all differences, however much substance they have, under the rug? Surely we haven't elected the creepy squishy kid everybody always wanted to get away from as president!? Or even worse have we elected someone who is trying, because swept away by his own rhetoric, to be that icky person? Ickiness as an ambition! How did the fabled rough and tumble of American electoral politics throw this potato up from the hopper?
And then, and then we are supposed to believe it to have taken him an entire year to discover that the Republicans didn't want to be friends with him. Christ, I'd say that ninety-nine point nine nine nine percent of the country's, nay the world's, two-year-olds would have outdone the president of the United States in detecting the hostility of the Republicans. Can someone be said to "detect" a blade slashing open one's guts? If this is how long it takes for him to detect hostility what is his finger doing on the nuclear trigger? In a gunfight he'd be dead and buried a year before his gun cleared the holster. And this is the guy who is toe-to-toe with the Ruskies!? (Terrorists, whatever.)
This is the Obama Cockburn wants to present to you. Is this who Obama is? If Mr. Cockburn's idea is anything close to real we are in big big trouble, not just because of Obama but because somehow the kid-who-no-one-wanted-around, the kid you wouldn't even want to tag along, has become the leader. Say what? You mean him? How the hell did he get there and what does it mean about us?
Or...or, or, or is it Mr. Cockburn who is mad? Only two weeks earlier he wrote this:
Not much more than a year later, Obama has smoothed off the rough edges of Bush-era foreign policy, while preserving and, indeed, widening its goals, those in place through the entire postwar era since 1945.
Oops, what have we here? A smooth operator with a calm and steady hand guiding the ship of state through choppy waters, putting it back on its steady post-war course after Bush's inept handling nearly capsized it. (Or only appeared to.) Obama is well on his way to tidying up the mess Bush left behind. This is the coolest kid on the block. Although it looks on the surface as if everything is falling apart, actually, hidden from view the titanic ship of state, under his guidance, has righted itself and is just humming along on the course it has always taken.
Are these compatible pictures? I suppose so if we see complete ineptitude and creepiness as a mere cover for steely intelligence and bottomless wells of cunning and resolve. So complete creepiness, that seems to be causing Obama's polls to plummet, is a clever move. That dopey face is the face of a clever puppet master whose hands, under the table, manipulate all of our strings while we underestimate him. Or is it the reverse: the steely intelligence and bottomless wells of cunning and resolve are just a cover for complete ineptitude and creepiness? Campaign-trail Obama, who looked so intelligent, was a mere actor covering cluelessness under a thoughtfully furrowed brow. Oh well, one thing is sure: something is hiding something; whatever is, is not. Immanuel Kant called The Beautiful "purposiveness without a purpose." This is nuttiness without a nut.
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Michael Doliner studied with Hannah Arendt at the University of Chicago (1964-1970) and has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y. (back)