Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is President Obama Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? Is He a Battered Spouse in an Unhealthy Relationship with the Republican Party?

Two memes are circulating in the aftermath of Barack Obama's seeming surrender to the Tea Party GOP on a two year extension of Bush the Second's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and a deep cut in inheritance taxes in exchange for a one year continuation of the unemployment insurance needed by those Americans either on, or frighteningly close to being in, the bread line.

Some have suggested the Obama is a battered spouse in an unhealthy relationship, wherein the GOP emotionally abuses the President and holds his agenda hostage all the while playing a foul game of blame the victim. The second narrative suggests that Barack Obama is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Here, Obama is America's first Black President turned Patty Hearst, and is in a twisted relationship where he has come to identify with the hostage takers that are the Republican Party.

Both of these analogies seem a bit flat to me. True, the Republicans are obstructionists acting against the common good. But, President Obama has the greatest bully pulpit of all. He is President of the United States, the national cheerleader, champion of the national prosperity, and informal head of state. Obama also inherited a majority in Congress and a mandate for change. In total, the logger jam he finds himself in is 1) a function of a failure in communication where charismatic candidate Barack Obama has been replaced by a much too modest Adlai Stevensonesque persona and 2) he is dealing in a reasonable manner with clearly unreasonable people who are determined to see him--and the Democratic Party--fail at any cost.

Upon the beginning of his term, Obama (instead of slapping the Republican Party with a steel hand covered in silk) extended a naked hand of conciliation and friendship to mouth frothing ideologues. He was bitten because of his own willful and poor decision making. Consequently, President Obama is no battered spouse or hostage, as he is responsible for making his own bed and must now lie in it. In short, Barack Obama, the most powerful politician in the world, is a victim of his own doing.

The latter point is especially revealing as we try to make sense of President Obama's difficulties as of late.

Breaking kayfabe as I occasionally do: Several years ago a fellow traveler and colleague of mine studied under then Professor Obama. In the latter's constitutional law class there was a very outspoken, provocative, and often wrong student that was quite disruptive as he seemed to revel in contradicting a young professor--especially one (who was coincidentally) not White. Throughout the term, Professor Obama would handle him politely and delicately, in the best professorial sense finding merit in said student's comments and redirecting the course appropriately.

One day the seminar was discussing Reconstruction, the Emancipation of Black Americans, and the Equal Protection Clause. The arch-Conservative student in question suggested that African-Americans were not prepared for freedom, had not demonstrated a propensity for democracy, and would have been better off in a state of servitude until they could appreciate the fruits of liberty as taught by White people. Shocked, with students on the edge of their seats, Obama smiled, did not respond, and then once more salvaged this intentionally provocative, racially tinged, and disruptive set of assertions. Many students were stunned. The line of reasoning offered by our provocateur was both intellectually lazy and unfounded by the historical record. Obama could have destroyed this observation and the specious reasoning underlying it with little effort...what could and should have been a truly teachable moment. Instead, then Professor Obama chose to make lemonade by adding bar sugar to a noxious mix of rotten lemons.

In that moment President Obama signaled to a type of too good-natured naivete, and a belief in the generosity and reasonableness of people, that is to this day vexing his presidency. Because he is a preeminent compromiser, even when to his own detriment, Obama believes that you can deal reasonably with unreasonable people. Sadly you cannot. Just as bullies are encouraged by appeasement, Obama's version of realpolitik signals that he is trading territory for maneuver room. Unfortunately, the American people will be the losers in this gambit.

Question: Is President Obama playing a deep game of chess, the fruits of which we cannot see in the near term? Or, and it pains me to write this, is Obama in over his head, monsooned by the craziness that he faces by the lockstep, single-minded, "principled opposition?"


John Kurman said...

Wow. Thaks for that. The more I think about that UofC anecdote, the more blown away I am. I voted for Obama because voting for the Geezer/Dingbat combo would have been totally, utterly, irrevocably disastrous for the country. But I had no illusions about him. I knew he was inexperienced, a centrist, unfortunately mentored by that cocksucker Lieberman, and therefore I was quite prepared to be dissapointed. But I also recognized that here was a guy who eas not only the smartest in the room, but smartest in most rooms. Nevertheless, I was completely flabbergasted when he refused, on multiple opportunities, to supply a short, fast, deadly jab to the nads of the Republicans when they let loose with a completely embarrassing roundhouse punch that someone a lightyear away could see was going to catch air. I mean, Jesus dude, use the opportunity. And he wouldn't. Just once, please, to watch 'em collapse and turn ten shades of purple. And maybe, if he had someone who knows Krav Maga, like Rahm Emanuel, things would have gone down with a well-placed flick of a finger to the pharynx, and there is your teachable moment.

Alright, I'm rambling. You tale has resulted in my respect and admiration for Obama has gone up considerably. It shows a restraint which, if I am to be honest with myself, I will never possess. I still think the guy is brilliant, but he needs a psychotically ruthless right hand man to immanentize his eschaton.

John Kurman said...

P.S. Is it possible Cheney can be reprogrammed to serve as Obama's Terminator?

Chris Albertson said...

Excellent post and illuminating story, CD.

It would be interesting to know the why? in this sad tale of opportunities lost, but it is too late to hope for a solution that might get him on the course he once so eloquently outlined.

Pockets of positivity are of little comfort when we look beyond Obama. He inherited a hopeless mess and made it even more so.

Plane Ideas said...

Obama is a outcome of his cultural dna which is bi-racial and as such he reacts accordingly as a professor in a law class and as a president in a white nation..

Obama is exactly what we observe a mild manner colored man handcuffed by his bi-racial cultural dna..Obama's restraint and tilt toward avoidance is his deliberate posture..His entire inner circle is absence of any strong outspoken Black males and this truth has hurt him

Of course a Black man like myself wants more yet I have learned people can only be who they are..

Unlike the white liberals who have always kicked Black folks to the curb when we don't respect thier white privledge and domination of the paradigms... Obama hopefully now understands the limits of being beholden to white liberals who at end of the day are white and self absorbed as white conservatives about dominating American politics..

Obama is not going to change his true being..We are stuck with a guy driving the car that likes to stay within the speed limit when we need him to race the engine and get to ER while his peeps are under seige suffering from a million cuts and bleeding everywhere..

Anonymous said...

Wolverine, the Clarmont era badass, not today's saccharine movie confection, always pissed me off when he stabbed Rachel Summers to keep her from killing the Black Queen, an irredeemable predator upon the innocent. His was the classic hero's argument -that we must be better than our adversaries, that their methods cannot be our methods, etc. I was never satisfied with that answer but perhaps that's why I'm no hero.

Habitat Vic said...

Back in 2006, I asked a UofC professor that I knew (went to grad school there in 80s) about then Senator Obama and what she thought about his future as a candidate for President. I remember she said that he was extremely smart, charming, cerebral and "maybe too nice."

Hindsight's 20:20 of course, and I didn't think much of it at the time. I didn't expect him to be a transformative Pres - an FDR - even before he took office, when he revealed his economic team.

That said, I have been breathtakingly disappointed with Obama's lack of fight. I vacillate between anger and depression over the situation. Sometimes I can no longer stand to listen to his press conferences, it just drives me crazy. And I phonebanked, gave rides, contributed and did other GOTV for him.

In return for his "bipartisanship" efforts, the Repubs are going to try and impeach him (seriously, you know they are). God help us all.

Invisible Man said...

This was an o.k. video, well better than o.k., but the problem is that he's making it seem that Obama was poor when in fact Obama was upper middle class his whole life( besides for his father) and he had a strong and educated family structure.

In other words he had it better than most Black children. Finally, look at LBJ, he grew up poorer than Obama and he lowered the ladder down so that others could climb back up. I think it's more about Obama having the mindset of Chicago's black middle class, which is not all that progressive.

Plane Ideas said...


Chicago Black middle class has not harvested many great Black icons, intellectuals etc...

I find my city much more bountiful...

Invisible Man said...


I've heard that, in so many old cities organic activism is emerging, but not in Chicago. Nothing percolates. We have been on Masa's plantation and then his son's plantation for so long that we just sorta do what some boss tells us.

chaunceydevega said...

@John--Thanks for the extended thoughts. Question: how do you frame his response to that student as a net positive and not a net negative? Aren't some levels of stupidity and provocation so problematic they demand to be smacked down?

@Chris--Hopeless? I hope not. Here is where I get confused. He is such a pragmatist who in fact has gotten alot done, but their is no master narrative that coheres his accomplishments. If he constructed a master story for his presidency to this point--something with a trajectory--would this help us keep faith in him?

@Thrasher. Provocative. I was thinking something parallel.

@Anon--Great allusion. Do we want heroes or effective politicians who advance the common good? Sometimes those categories are mutually exclusive.

@Habitat Vic--Cool name btw. Would you vote for him again?

@Spook--Obama is very cosmopolitan and atypical. But I thought his mother was on welfare. That doesn't mean he didn't have access to his grandparents money. I wonder why Obama doesn't speak to his roots, his hustle, and his presidency as an amazingly "American" story as a way of reaching out to the public. He isn't a hillbilly ofay so Obama can't do the Clinton I feel your pain line, but dude could reach out, summon his roots in the black barbershop, and talk to the folk as folk. No?