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Disappointment and Defection

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Two op-ed columns on Sunday morning struck home the idea that President Obama has lost perhaps irrecoverable ground with his "base" in just one short year. The first one I read was by Neal Gabbler in the Boston Globe decrying the lack of passion in Obama (as compared to candidate Obama) and his staff. It is, as Gabbler sees it, not listless, but rather seemingly afraid to rock the boat too much, to be seen as an angry Black, to unnecessarily jostle some vote in the gray middle of political opportunists. Gabbler's is not quite an indictment. But if you are looking for causes for these effects, you really need go no further than the Chief of Staff, whose martinet style and gushing profanity has effectively subdued his boss and the rest of the staff. It sounds preposterous, but every organization run by a martinet soon learns to avoid the pain and becomes insensitive to the pain of others.

The second and perhaps more profound of the columns is by our favorite columnist in the New York Times, Frank Rich. I had to pause and go about my morning business before I realized that Rich's use of Tiger Woods as stalking horse for a fundamental problem in American culture is, in fact, a long-awaited statement of a problem we as a culture and as individuals have with the news and information media: we trust it too much, too broadly and too deeply. We allow ourselves to be deceived and it is frankly having more consequences than we are able to deal with.

There is no question that Americans are not well-educated when it comes to discerning pepper from fly-specks. We tend to take things on hopeful face value and sort the world into categories that are comfortable for us. We have categories for crime and faithlessness, but these are bound categories with sharper edges than really exist in real life. We are hood-winked, as Rich says, all too often, and we accept spin as having a strength of truth in it, despite much evidence to the contrary. We don't like disagreement and the feeling of being talked into or being talked down to. In defense of what self-conscious awareness we have of our limitations, we prefer to accept a web of deceit than to challenge the messenger and risk being defeated in argument.

Frank Rich ends his essay with what I think is a memorable sentence, memorable because of its utterance as much as its content. It represents a departure that the White House had better begin to understand soon.

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... Though the American left and right don't agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama's brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger's public image -- a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it)....
Rich goes on to say that neither is probably true, but he wrote it and the message is quite clear. Disappointment is evolving rapidly toward defection.



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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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