I feel curiously vindicated after reading Frank Rich’s column:-
My cognitive dissonance theory of the unreasonable attitudes towards the Obama Presidency by some quarters on the Left (notably the base) is entirely justified in one paragraph:-
“… a friend who is a prominent liberal Obama supporter sent me an e-mail flipping my point. He theorized that race also plays a role in ‘the often angry and intemperate talk’ he has been hearing from ‘left-liberal friends for the past many months about what a failure and a disappointment’ the president has been. In his view, ‘Obama never said anything, while running, to give anyone the idea’ that he was other than a ‘deliberate, compromise-seeking bipartisan moderate.’ My friend wondered if white liberals who voted for Obama expected a ’sweeping Republicans-be-damned kind of agenda’ in part — and he emphasized ‘in part!’ — because ‘they expect a black guy to be intemperate, impetuous, impatient” rather than ‘measured, deliberate, patient.’ ”
There you have it! It’s official, or quasi-so. Many of the so-called Progressive Left, hovering around the base of the Democratic Party assumed they were getting a jive-talking, street-suss black dude, who’d kick ass six ways til Sunday amongst the recalcitrant and hideously white Republicans. They thought they were getting Shaft and Cleopatra Jones sashaying into the Blue Room, and they’re disappointed to find out (in their own estimation), that they’ve ended up with Johnny Mathis and Leslie Uggams.
The whole of the Obama-bashin’ fashion has been a lesson in cognitive dissonance at its best and a veritable example of the sort of narrow-mindedness that’s been allowed to develop over the years on what is normally assumed to be the all-embracing, ueber-tolerant Left … and that’s a bit of cognitive dissonance too.
According to Rich, Obama is a Rorschach test – as a candidate and, subsequently, as a President. According to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in their best-selling work, Game Change, Obama was the ultimate tabula rasa. Either way, it amounted to the way the Left’s base perceived Obama: Basically, he was everything to everybody. He was what we wanted him to be. Whatever hopes, dreams and encouragements we fostered, we projected on Candidate, and then President, Obama.
In a curious way, this justifies John McCain’s campaign interpretation of Obama as the celebrity, the rock-star. How many of us harboured adolescent fantasies of a singer or an actor, projecting whatever puerile views we held at the time onto the fragile shoulders of a Jagger, a McCartney or even an Elvis? Thus, we stared in utter amazement and wonder whenever Obama gave a major speech … and never heard a word he said.
The television in my British office, the day after Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, tuned to the BBC, replayed the speech, the cameras lingering on the upturned faces of the faithful in the crowd, each and every one smiling beatifically. A colleague of mine noted wryly: “They look like they’re in some sort of a religious trance.”
So it was easy to be disappointed, once the deed was done, for many, when Obama set about fulfilling what, essentially, were campaign promises.
“He promised single-payer! He did! I heard him!”
(Sorry, love, no, he didn’t. He actually said that single-payer would be ideal, if we were starting from scratch with a total reform of health services in general. That’s not a promise).
“He promised to end the war!”
(Yes. He promised to bring the troops back from Iraq and concentrate, instead, on the so-called “good” war, Afghanistan – you know, the one we were well on our way to winning and stabilising before George Bush got addicted to Iraq and non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction).
It didn’t help matters that the Left’s base were led in song by totally irresponsible reporting and comment by so-called celebrity pundits, who deliberately misinformed them and kept them in a perpetual state of bickering, second-guessing and discontent.
I have to cite Bill Maher, who started the cognitive dissonance ball rolling down the precipice with his “Patriot Editorial” of November 14, 2008, when he made a comparison between the newly-elected Obama and Canadian premier, Stephen Harper, in totally ghetto-esque terminology, exclaiming, “Take that, Canada! You’ve got some boring white dude named Stephen Harper, while my President is a kickass, black ninja named Barack Hus-SEIN Obama!”
By June 16, 2009, Maher was forging the path of Obama-bashing, getting his oar in with the first overtly critical editorial of the President, basically criticizing nothing of policy, except the fact that, in Maher’s view, Obama had done nothing since entering office, except buy a dog for his kids. Had he bothered to do proper research, instead of currying a reaction which would lead to various appearances on other pundits’ shows (and thus garner some publicity for his own program), he would learned from Poltifact that Obama, actually, was doing really rather well in keeping a lot of his promises and accomplishing that which he’d set about to achieve. Instead, this started a litany of lament from the base of the Left, who took Maher’s word almost as law, and carried the crescendo of complaint to a new level, which remained continuous until the end of the year and beyond.
In hindsight, and compared to the damage limitation that’s been one of the key elements of Real Time since it began its new season, it’s now easy to see how Bill Maher was a victim of his own cognitive dissonance – he voted for Samuel L Jackson and got Bill Cosby. “Is this as good as it gets?” he wailed in November of last year, all the time wanting Obama to assume the mantle and mantra, the swagger of Bush, which, in Obama, would have translated into the angry, black man.
Now that the President has achieved what he sought, with healthcare reform, and in the way he wanted to achieve it, to Maher and the other capricious pundits such as Ed Schultz, he’s got his mojo back; he’s punching his weight and upwards. This is behaviour which they’ve cognitively associated with a black man from Chicago, street-suss and sassy; it’s familiar to them and identifiable with their assumption of what the behaviour of a successful black man should be, as summed up in Bill Maher’s most recent editorial in which he hoped for the President to deliver a message to the GOP that they should “kick his black ass.”
Taken further, we have the collective year-long critiques and moanings of Arianna Huffington about Obama’s ineptitude, his mishandling of the economy, his sell-out to Wall Street, his lassitude, his kowtowing to the Right in every way to please them. She went as far as to exhort Joe Biden to resign as Vice-President and lead an open revolt against the President and his Afghan policy, weeks before it was even decided and announced what the President was going to do.
Every move the man made or didn’t make was open to pejorative comment from Ms Huffington; his State of the Union was seen by her to be an artfully constructed sell-out to big business and the banks too big to fail. Every word of criticism, every second-guessed opinion, every time after endless time she appeared on the rounds of commentary shows from This Week to Wolf Blitzer to Olbermann to countless, countless appearances on the ubiquitous Ed Schultz, she prefaced her incendiary remarks with a pithy little sigh, taken straight from the repository of sounds made by white-gloved Southern ladies of the Junior League variety in the early days of racial equality … the sigh that implied, “Well, what did you expect … from a BLACK man?” As far as Huffington was concerned, this Presidency was seminal in that it was the first (and, Huffington hoped, only) affirmative action Presidency.
The blogosphere, weaned on a diet of infotainment, cleverly disguised as cherry-picked news, lapped this up and spewed it out until it became viral. They looked for any elected official from the Democratic Party to break rank and criticize Obama, they plotted primary challenges, threatened to sulk out a vote, some even teamed up with Teabaggers. In fact, Huffington did much and is still doing much in the way of trying to emphasize that the Progressive Left really does have a lot in common with the Teabaggers, considering their anti-Wall Street stance, and that similarity should be cultivated – when in fact, the only thing the extreme bases of the two parties have in common is that they’re being manipulated and misinformed by people whose only agenda is furthering their own publicity and professional careers.
The base of the Right is laughed at by its seemingly superior counterpart on the Left, because they take to the streets with pictures of Obama sporting a Hitler moustache, calling him a Nazi; because they depict him as a witch doctor and call him a communist; because they fear he’s a socialist, that he wasn’t born in America, that he’s sinister … when anyone with half a brain knows they cannot accept the fact that a black man is in the Big Chair.
Yet their brothers encompassing the base of the Left protest this President because they don’t understand why he’s doing literally everything he said he’d do, when, in reality, the black man in the White House isn’t black enough to fit their perceived stereotype.
And I don’t know which is the more insulting viewpoint.