Society is always prone to accept a person offhand for what he pretends to be, so that a crackpot posing as a genius always has a certain chance to be believed.
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
Hannah Arendt, a brilliant jewel of a political thinker, made this trenchant observation in her monumental work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, post WWII. She was speaking specifically of Hitler and the “magic spell” he had cast over his German listeners. The fascination with the Fuhrer, she adds, rested on “his pseudo-authoritative judgments about everything under the sun, and on the fact that his opinions – whether they dealt with the harmful effects of smoking or with Napoleon’s policies – could always be fitted into an all-encompassing ideology.” (305)
So, it is hard to resist the suspicion that the occupant of the White House for the past seven years is just the sort of “crackpot posing as a genius” that Arendt was describing. Consider: in 2008 a self-proclaimed “genius,” devoid of the relevant credentials and experience burst upon the political landscape promising to heal the planet, change the world, bring racial harmony and move the country beyond the frustrations and impediments of partisan politics. Well and good. Crackpots and their delusional promises abound, but sanity and common sense usually inoculate us against the nostrums of bloviating political charlatans, especially ones who promise things like “complete transformation.”
With the ascent of Obama in 2008 one could only contemplate with astonishment the rapture, the delirium, the intoxicated enthrallment with which hordes of serious, grownup people basked in the saccharin smog of vacuity that came out of his traveling carnival show. College students, yes, but not only did the members of the fourth estate – professionally obliged to be skeptical – consume the snake oil, they stupidly joined the frenzied rituals of apotheosis. Evan Thomas of Newsweek with a straight-face proclaimed The One to be “a sort of God standing among us.” Well … just what “sort of God” was he? One that uttered proclamations such as “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”, silly, bewildering humbuggery, a grandiose slogan of egotism and solipsism that one might expect from a collection of spoiled twerps running for 10th grade student council. The dogged determination of the press corps to remain amnesiacs with regard to Obama’s past helped to put into office a man whose basic instincts, personal history and ideological fixtures were deeply inimical to America’s history and traditions. He aspired not just to lead America, but as he said shortly before his first election, to “completely transform” it. That arrogant display of colossal egotism and condescension by itself should have finished him.
Shortly after his first inauguration before he even began being President came his Nobel Peace prize – gotten like the presidency for nothing related to any substantive achievement – and installation in the Pantheon of the Greats (FDR, Lincoln, JFK) by the adulating media. Years later, however, no one, including Evan Thomas, comments on the divinity or even the genius of the man who was proclaimed during his campaign as a “Lightworker.” No comparisons now with FDR. He is sometimes likened to Jimmy Carter – Jimmy Carter, minus the humility. No president has ever produced such a vast disparity between the promises of the campaign and the fulfillment in office. His 2008 campaign was a masterpiece of illusion, deception and misdirection: his 2012 campaign was an unprecedented and depressing work of slander and character assassination.
Our experience clearly shows that Obama from the beginning was pretending to be something of which he was the polar opposite. Transparency, moderation, civility, mutual respect, accountability, responsible stewarding of resources, racial healing, post-partisan politics – none of these have ever been remotely in evidence, which he is always eager to say is the fault of others. The Hope & Change act was a cynical cover for his deeply resentful and adversarial mentality and his intolerance and condescending disdain for any political opposition.
Since there was so little evidence of anything Obama had done or experience that he had that would justify his ambition, one must ponder the question: how was this pretender able to succeed? The answer captured in the title of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Everybody Knows” was bluntly and correctly asserted during the 2008 Democratic primary season by Geraldine Ferraro, who happened to be working for Hillary Clinton. “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” For her honesty and perspicacity she was promptly sacked. Indeed, the country was “caught up in the concept,” the concept being that Obama was no ordinary mortal candidate: he was in fact an opportunist extraordinaire posing as a miracle man. Thus he appeared at the right time and right place with a deal – white redemption, guilt no more. “He can be President and we can finally be done with racism,” seemed to be the barely sublimated motif. Obama was not selling his experience – he had none. He was not selling his ideological convictions – he hid them. He could not sell his integrity and character – they were compromised and questionable. He was selling himself as a nice, well-intentioned, well-spoken, well-educated black man possessed of unique, transcendent qualities of personality who would be a President like no other. Doing that required a carefully honed message empty of content, wildly bold and grandiose, yet anodyne and non-threatening, and, it necessitated that he dissimulate his past association with the unseemly likes of Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, a past inconsistent with the wholesome, “we’re all in it together” change agent image that David Axelrod had helped him craft. Plus, as Ms. Ferraro pointed out, he was, indeed, lucky. Young, sleek and fresh with the GQ looks and the crisp crease of his slacks that so impressed New York Times pundit, David Brooks, the cool and confident Obama stood beside the dumpy, “been-there-done-that” harridan in a pants suit, Hillary Clinton.
Obama’s “deal” was a bait-and-switch. No post-racial America in the horizon as some may have hoped with the election to the Presidency of a black man. Racism is an unrelenting refrain of the Left, and the charge has been constantly used as a smear for anyone on the Right who finds fault with what the President does. A careful reading of Dreams from my Father reveals that Obama, like his pastor-mentor, Jeremiah Wright is reflexively hostile on matters racial and can never be expected to relinquish his grievances.
Once in office throughout his presidency Obama appears everywhere – magazine and book covers, talk shows, interviews, speech after speech – delivering, as Arendt puts it, “his pseudo-authoritative judgments about everything under the sun,” all of it wrapped into a crude neo-Marxist ideology that finds exploitation and oppression and unfairness everywhere. The America he had sought to lead was in his mind a rigged system, burdened with iniquity, its “bitter clingers to their guns and religion” needing to relinquish their shotguns and bigotry. The remarks of his wife during the 2008 campaign captured the usually dissimulated rancor and bitterness of the Obamas: “[L]ife [in America] is not good: we're a divided country, we're a country that is just downright mean…” In the White House for these long years, we have a President and First Lady long marinated in the juices of racial resentment, palling around with scurrilous race baiters and riot fomenters like Al Sharpton, meditating upon and nurturing the myriad grievances of identity politics, and insulting and vilifying anyone who happens to disagree.
Rather than being humbled by the responsibilities of the office he had assumed, Obama’s arrogance and conviction of infallibility seemed to expand exponentially. Again, Hannah Arendt: “The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error. The assumption of infallibility, moreover, is based not so much on superior intelligence as on the correct interpretation of the essentially reliable forces in history or nature, forces which neither defeat nor ruin can proved wrong because they are bound to assert themselves in the long run.” (348-49)
Obama’s intellectual and moral conceit renders him incapable of acknowledging shortcomings or mistakes and of according any respect to those who differ with him. He is the personal embodiment of progress, a force of rectification, The One who was destined to turn that “mean America” into a just America, and, not just America. As his wife, high on the vapors of Obama worship in 2008 told a group of admirers, “Barack is going to change the world.” He has surrounded himself with the sycophant celebrities of Hollywood, and to protect his thin skin and swollen ego his handlers usually put him in venues fully orchestrated where to the amusement of his adulators, he dispenses his sarcasms and insults his critics. He disdains the press conference where on occasion his wisdom is called into question.
For his much vaunted “superior intelligence” little evidence has ever been produced. His university grades, test scores and school records are all under lock. Though touted as a constitutional law scholar and professor he has produced not a single published page of scholarship, even as editor of the Harvard Law Review. His only two publications are about his favorite subject, himself, and of these his authorship remains somewhat questionable.
Obama’s infallibility rests, as Arendt suggests, not on his superior intelligence but on the mantle he adroitly donned as the great orator for “progressive politics.” His national prominence came from a single speech. From the beginning, the foundation of Obama’s “genius” was to rest on his supposed inspirational, eloquent oratory. But the more he talks, the less he says. When he is not mean spirited and petulant his talks are composed of boring and predictable cliches. At the end of year seven there is no inspiration or eloquence. Mocked for his teleprompter dependency, not even his admirers can find the remnants of oratorical brilliance. His genius, whatever it was supposed to be, is long gone. When he leaves office and recedes into history, he will increasingly be come to viewed as the sort of "crackpot" so ably described by Hannah Arendt.