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The President and the Talk-Show Host

By       Message Manfred Wolf     Permalink
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The President is a man of reason, which, of course, doesn't mean he's always reasonable, but that he wants to be reasonable--that being reasonable is important to him.

Whatever comes up, he sees it as his role to give careful, reasoned explanations of his actions or his attitude. He is articulate in the way of a college professor; questions from students are carefully answered, each time with a bit of a different twist, in the hope that the student will understand this time around. And next class, before there are even questions, the professor will try to anticipate what they might be and carefully explain, and explain again.

Mr. Obama has his vanities, and he has a touch of arrogance, and he doesn't quite see himself as others do--for instance, he seems to think he has a sense of humor--but on the whole he strives to keep his emotions in check, and who can dispute that this mix of traits has carried him far, very far indeed? Maybe I should say these traits as well as a touch of glamour.

Reasonable people have trouble, of course, with unreasonable ones. They expect their own reasonableness to be persuasive, to talk others out of their unreason. In that respect you might say that reasonable people are unreasonable.

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More precisely, President Obama doesn't know how to meet the unreason he gets, and seems unsure of who his enemies are.

His greatest foes, his mortal enemies,his deadliest opponents, are the right-wing talk show hosts. Their voices are loud, and they have a responsive audience. There are so many of them that I'll merge them into one. What an irony that the most potent propaganda weapon of Germany in the Twenties and Thirties--the radio--is once again playing a bellowing, destructive role!
The right-wing talk show host accuses the President of being a traitor, a weakling, an opportunist, a Chicago thug, a Muslim, a socialist, a fascist, who wants to destroy the private sector and increase his own power and the power of the state. He is portrayed both as diabolically clever and very dumb, glib as well as a stutterer who can't speak without a teleprompter.

In their eyes he can't do anything right. If he talks to schoolchildren about studying hard, he's "indoctrinating them into the socialist agenda."
Why these assertions are eagerly taken in by millions of people could be the subject of another column. Fear, racism, the huge unpopularity of the government, the economic crisis--all of them play into it.

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That these assertions are demonstrably false doesn't matter. That the speakers who proclaim them believe their own lies is further alarming. Their sincerity merely makes them more persuasive. When you hate someone, all arguments supporting that hatred are valid. The hatred comes first. Demagogues give voice to unspoken angers and unlabeled wrath.

And that this view is still a minority view is also not comforting. The Bolsheviks, the Nazis, and the Taliban, all started as minority views.
The President could do himself a lot of good by saying, "The government doesn't want to run the banks; the government doesn't enjoy operating General Motors. . . We'd like to get out of the car business as soon as we can." Mild enough, but at least it would have some feeling behind it.

It wouldn't help with the talk show hosts, but it might reach some of the people who listen to them.

But the reasonable person has trouble saying emotional things. When he does, he sounds unconvincing and even weak.

My fear is this: In the clash between reason and emotion, emotion usually wins. And most dangerous of all is the emotion that doesn't know itself for being the vicious hatred it is.

Manfred Wolf is the author of "Almost a Foreign Country."

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Manfred Wolf grew up in the Netherlands and in the Dutch West Indies, and came to the U.S. at seventeen. He is a university professor, columnist, translator, and freelance writer, whose work has been published in numerous European and American (more...)

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