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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Useful Idiots

The Source of Barack Obama’s Power to Trick Us Comes from Our
Willingness to Be Tricked

By Matt Stoller
Naked Capitalism.com
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jokes reveal truths, which is why the best way to appreciate the
real Obama, not the fabled character of hope and change, is how
he tells jokes.

He’s good at, no, great at telling jokes. He kills at comedic
performances, and his sense of timing is magnificent.

Jokes, though, show how someone really sees the world, and the
joke I’m thinking of is one he made during a speech in March 2009,
when the revelations of AIG’s massive retention bonuses became
public.

It had been less than two months since Obama’s inauguration, but
the major policy framework of the administration – the bailouts –
had been laid down.

The AIG bonus scandal was outrageous to the public, a symbol of
tens of billions of taxpayer dollars being funneled to an arrogant
corporation that had helped destroy the economy.

Barack Obama had stepped up to the lectern to deliver a stern
rebuke to AIG executives who had taken bonuses with taxpayer
money.

Obama talked of the outrage of an irresponsible company, and
how his administration would do everything within its power to
get the money back.

But a few minutes in, he coughed, slightly, choking a bit, as
his mouth was a bit dry. But after he coughed, he stopped,
and reflected on the gesture with a joke.

”I’m choked, choked with anger”, he said. Obama chuckled.
Reporters laughed. And it was funny, really funny.

Because everyone in the room knew that Obama wasn’t actually
angry about the AIG bonuses, and never intended to do anything
about it.

No one there was angry about the bonuses, and everyone
knew nothing would happen to AIG executives.

The House would pass bills, which would die in the Senate.

The only people angry were Americans at large, who could
not believe that their government worked for Wall Street.

So the joke was funny, ironic, cool. But the moment wasn’t
right for it, because this was a serious time for outrage – so
Obama quickly reverted to form, and the teleprompter took
over.

Pundits didn’t reflect on this “joke”. No one really noted it.

It was very much like George Bush’s comment to reporters that
was only later highlighted by Michael Moore, when Bush was on
a golf course and perfunctorily said “we must find these terrorist
killers….” and then turned to swing a golf club. ”Now watch this
drive.”

Obama had risen to that level of duplicity, not a lie in the
conventional sense of saying something that wasn’t true,
but an entirely constructed false persona.

He had polished the tools of the Presidency – the utter banality
of PR, the constipated talking points, the routine abuse of power
and taken them to a new level with a self-aware sense of irony
about his own narcissistic dishonesty.

His challenge was so outrageous – I dare you to call me on what
a liar I am as I joke about how much I am lying to you right now
that he turned an obnoxious bluff into art.

Obama had shown this breathtaking tendency to con people as they
knew they were being conned before, the most public time during
the campaign being his cynical answer when he was asked about his
promise to renegotiate NAFTA.

He had said, when fighting for union votes with Clinton, “I will
make sure we renegotiate (NAFTA).” Even as he said this, it turns
out that campaign advisor Austan Goolsbee had gone to Canada to
assure them this was a lie (sure enough, Obama’s trade policies are
identical to Bush’s, or worse).

And once the election ended, and Obama was asked about his
broken promise by a reporter, he gave the following answer.

“This is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were
generated during the course of the campaign,” President Obama
said during his Transition in early December, when a reporter
asked him about criticisms he and now-Secretary of State Clinton
had made about each other’s foreign policy views.

“They’re your quotes, sir,” said the reporter, Peter Baker of
the New York Times.

“No, I understand. And you’re having fun,” Obama continued.
“And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not faulting it.”

This is cynicism as art. It’s literally a Presidential candidate running
on hope and change saying that campaign promises are a joke and a ruse.

His comments on AIG were similarly dishonest.

When Barack Obama spoke about the AIG money, he gave a well-
constructed speech in which he discussed how his administration
would do everything legally possible to block the payment of those
bonuses.

Of course, those bonuses had been paid out days before he made
the statement, so the idea that he’d “block” the bonuses was
already something of deception.

His promises to do everything legal to claw back the money were
also misleading – Obama didn’t get the money back, and never
intended to.

In fact, the administration had weeks earlier asked Chris Dodd
to insert a provision into law ensuring the AIG bonuses would
be paid – and then blamed Dodd for the fiasco.

Politicians play hardball all the time. They lie on a regular basis,
it’s one of the tricks of the trade.

But Obama’s politics, and his career, are built on an exquisitely
and brilliantly constructed narrative of integrity and progress.

He is the outsider become the insider, the multi-racial meritocrat
whose black and white heritage came together into the ultimate
conciliator and political leader.

His is the story of America, that of a brilliant Harvard Law school
educated striver with roots in community organizing, who became
a powerful orator, and then America’s first black President.

Progressive in spirit, cautious in temperament, he first and
foremost understands the challenges facing the nation, the
powerful injustice of slavery’s heritage, even though he
ultimately finds solace in his belief in America, in American
institutions, and in the ultimate goodness of the American
way of life.

But there is another narrative, a real narrative about Barack Obama
and his administration.

Obama is the ultimate cynic, a dishonest, highly reactionary social
and corporate ladder climbing con artist.

Obama is the guy who calls a female reporter “sweety”, who plays
poker with the guys, and who thinks that his senior advisor’s
decision to cash out after making a “modest” salary of $172,000 at
the White House is just natural.

He’s the guy who used the rationale that he’s a father of two girls
as to why he doesn’t want young women to have access to Plan B.

He was in favor of gay marriage in 1996, flip flopped for political
reasons, and then pretended to change his mind as a matter of
conscience.

He runs on populism with a worse record than George W. Bush
on income inequality.

His narcissism, and the post-modern ironic sense of self-awareness
of how his narrative is put together and tended, is his defining
character trait.

It’s not just that he’s a liar.

Lyndon Johnson was a liar, but LBJ lied us into a war in Vietnam
as well as a war on poverty.

FDR lied all the time, for good and ill.

Obama’s entire edifice is based on lying almost entirely to help
sustain his image, with almost no interest in sound policy-making.

Obama understands the threat of climate change, but like the
exceptional con artist he is, what happens to others he does
not know, or what happens in the future, is irrelevant to him.

He understands banking, and war, and women’s issues, and
corruption and Citizens United.

Like a great con artist, he has studied his mark, the American
voter, and specifically the Democratic voter, and he understands
which buttons to push.

Many criticize Obama, with the idea that he doesn’t understand,
and if only he understood, he would change his mind.

This is part of his false narrative of hope and change.

But Obama reads Paul Krugman – he studied the left intensely
and spent years as a community organizer.

He understands his opposition, those crying out for justice against
the powerful, and finds them laughable, finds in them weakness at
best, a punchline at worst.

He reads his left-wing opponents so he can absorb the talking
points, and rebut them.

Some think that Obama can be appealed to around the better
angels of nature, that he’s naturally with “the left” but must
be gently praised.

But again, this is more of the false hope and change narrative.

Obama understands Saul Alinsky. He gets left-wing ideas. But he
hates the left, with the passion of any bully towards his victims.

To him, they are chumps, weak, pathetic, losers. They are such
pathetic losers, in fact, that they will believe anything he tells
them.

And Obama has no better nature, he is what he’s done in office,
someone who murders children with drone strikes and then jokes
about it to his rich friends.

Yves wrote about this narrative a few weeks ago, when she pointed
out his career in the Illinois state Senate was based on working for
billionaire developers to destroy poor neighborhoods.

Few really gets who he is, at his core, and almost no one is willing
to publicly point it out.

There are some who went to law school with him, who saw his
enormous grasping social climbing tendencies, his eager corporate
good old boy persona, his narcissistic calculations.

But they are drowned out by the institutional left-wing voices,
the fanboy reporters, the sycophantic labor leaders, the slavishly
worshipful foundations, and the voters who cannot hear any
alternative to the hope and change they know and love.

The only mainstream narrative challenging hope and change is
the stupid right-wing storyline that he’s a Kenyan Muslim socialist.

That’s just racist idiocy.

But there are those on the right who understand Obama’s
narcissism, and they may just make that their electoral narrative.

Think about this problem in a slightly different way. It’s been
three years.

Why hasn’t been there a great iconic impersonator of Barack
Obama, like Tina Fey and Sarah Palin or Will Ferrell (or James
Adomian) and George W. Bush?

A comic impersonator reveals something about the core of an
individual.

The people imitating Obama seem to think that he’s far more left-
wing and principled beneath the surface, that if he let out who
he really was, how really angry he is at the Republicans, that’s the
parody they hit. It falls flat, because it’s not true to who he is.

The truth is that he’s a narcissistic sociopath dressed up as a cool
corporate brand.

The real Obama parody is an Obama who wears an Air Force One
fleece over an Obama t-shirt, who says to a reporter “Now hang on,
let me finish, speaking slowly and avoiding your question, which is,
by the way excellent.”

He’s President, and if you’re upset with him, don’t worry,
look at that beautiful photo of Obama smiling and pointing.

This alternative narrative is a hard truth to hear, because it
carries with it an implicit rejection of American exceptionalism.

Yes, American institutions are no better, and in many ways
are more malignant, than those of many other countries.

Yes, our political leaders, our press, our military leadership,
operate in service to sociopathic aims.

Yes, our freedoms are often an illusion, unless you fit a very
narrow criteria.

Yes, our banks are run to rob us, yes, our CIA spies on us,
and yes, our government is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Yes, our President is a con artist, and yes, nearly every reporter
who writes about him participates in this set of lies, because of
careerism, social financial reasons, or a simple lack of competence
or imagination.

But, the idea that the king is always good, which is where the
hope and change narrative draws its deep strength, is something
we do not have to accept.

We as people can break this spell, and speak to our own dignity,
as citizens.

We can learn our own power, if in no other manner than in saying
at the voting booth and in public, “I do not accept your lies, and
though you might take it by force, I will not grant you my consent
willingly.”

We can choose not to address our political officials by their titles.

We can work to organize ourselves, and our lives, with those of
us who understand that power is something that must be taken,
with money, organization, but most of all, with moral courage.

It is not something that politicians have except through our
consent, consent we have been giving for decades, to a rotten
political class.

This is what they truly fear.

This is why they spend tens of billions on propaganda, on
advertising, on symbols and personalities and celebrity.

This is why they hide the workings of our government and banks
and institutions of power in the language of boring bureaucrat-ese.

This is ultimately why they are weak.

Because in order for them to do their work quietly, we must go
about our day, and believe either the hope and change narrative,
or the Kenyan socialist narrative, scoffing at the opposing “team”
who thinks what we do not.

Instead, we can choose an alternative narrative, that power and
consent come from us, come from the choices that we make, as
people, and as citizens.

And we will no longer believe that Barack Obama, that cool,
brilliant, self-aware con artist is anything but what he has
revealed himself to be.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/06/back-obama-the-
cool-self-aware-irony-drenched-con-artist.html

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