Narcissistic disorder?
Source Louis Proyect
Date 11/09/14/00:22
Political Patricide
Obama’s Great Betrayal


Barack Obama’s betrayal will resonate in history long after he has
become just another name on the over-priced celebrity speaker
circuit. It is a betrayal of far more than the youthful idealists
and loyal progressives who put him in the White House. Obama has
unmoored the Democratic Party from its foundations – philosophical
and electoral. No longer is it expression of the programs and
ideas that crystallized with the New Deal and which dominated the
country’s politics for sixty years. Its future is that of an ad hoc
assemblage of hustlers and operators beholden to campaign donors
of all stripes, a party whose sole claim to govern will be that it
is not the amalgamated Tea/Republican Party. Obama, by this
Oedipus like act of patricide, has also betrayed the country that
voted for an enlightened leader with a social conscience – a
country in desperate need of the opposite to the fate he has laid
on us.

Barack Obama was the active factor that has precipitated this
tragedy. Who and what he is, therefore, is of the utmost
importance. It deserves close scrutiny since his unbecoming
traits of personality are not his alone, although he does
represent their distilled essence – and he alone managed to become
President of the United States. There are more Obamas, or Obama
look-alikes, in our future. What are the most salient ingredients
in his private-public persona? Most striking is a behavior
pattern that resembles closely the narcissistic syndrome – even if
he is not a clinical narcissist. A narcissist has no convictions
other than a total dedication to his own gratification. That
gives him the freedom to maneuver without inhibition or conscience
with the revered self as the only reference point. All
expressions of ideals, of opinions, of intentions are implicitly
so qualified. A complementary narcissistic trait is an ease with
blurring the line between virtual reality and actual reality.
Narcissists believe everything they say – at the moment they say
it. Their declarations are sterile acts that have no pride of
parentage nor can they expect honor from offspring. Witness
Obama’s momentarily rousing support of a labor movement that he
has scorned for thirty months. This is the same President who has
launched an all-out campaign against public school teachers whose
unions serve as the whipping-boy for all that ails American
education. Narcissists take as given that they never dissemble or
lie – because to do so is to acknowledge that reality has an
intolerably constraining claim on them.

Of course, this last is a feature of contemporary American
political culture in general. Facts are taken to be infinitely
malleable, the very notion of truth is denied, speaking honestly
is viewed as a life style choice, and communication is more a
matter of self affirmation than an attempt to convey knowledge,
emotion or intention to somebody else. We have externalized navel
gazing to a remarkable degree. All the demonstrative primping and
preening suggests self-licking ice cones looking for an audience.
One consequence is that public discourse in not anchored by common
standards of honesty. It is a maelstrom of raw opinion, emotive
outbursts, mythology and primal screams. Accountability,
therefore, ceases to exist. There is accountability only where
there are benchmarks of veracity, a reasonably rigorous monitoring
of what is said and done, and a dedication on the part of some at
least to ensuring that these requirements for a viable democracy
are met. The abject failure of the media to perform these
functions to any reasonable degree is a hallmark of our times.
The think tank and academic worlds are little better.

This amorphous environment is narcissist friendly terrain. It is
permissive of twists and turns, leaves no record of what was done
yesterday or the day before – much less a year ago, and focuses
only on the evanescent existential moment. Case in point is the
remarkably uncritical coverage that Obama has received from the
supposedly responsible media – especially those who claim to be
upholders of the ideas and policies and interests that he has
betrayed. This aspect of the Obama saga is overlooked because of
the savage, mindless attacks on him by the crackpot right which
now controls the Republican Party. Their excesses were the story,
the only story. The instinct to protect Obama was so powerful
that it stilled the voices of those who should have been both
bolstering and cajoling him to remain true to his avowed
commitments. To this day, the hesitation about calling out Obama
is manifest – witness the minimal reaction to his brazen reversal
on clean air standards that he is required by legal stipulation to
promulgate. Pressuring Obama early on also would have been the
line of political realism since opinion surveys have made clear
that it was the Republicans who were out of step with prevailing
attitudes on issue after issue. That remains true despite the
White House, and the Democratic Congressional leadership,
jettisoning them wholesale. This positive disposition toward
government’s role in providing for the welfare of citizens cannot
last for very long, of course, with the Democrats’ defections that
have left American politics with only one narrative, the
legitimizing of a Darwinian social philosophy, the ensconcing of
moneyed interests on the throne of power, and the deference now
shown the Tea Party outrages.

The vow by so many not to hold to account a President (the first
person of color to occupy the White House) who engaged in one
unseemly sellout after another emboldened Obama to go further and
further down that road. They were enablers of his betrayal. Only
now that the disaster has occurred are a few tentative, mild
voices of serious criticism raised about the man, his methods and
his politics. They have little practical meaning since the damage
is done, the game is lost, the Democratic Party is denatured, and
the great progressive wave of the 20th century that reconciled
Americanism with the social ethics of the modern world reversed.
Free of any mea culpas and lacking a sense of urgency, these timid
chastisements fall into the ignoble category of “grandpa
reassurances.” When many years from now a grandchild asks over
Thanksgiving dinner: “grandpa, where were you when they ruined my
country?” he can dredge up something he wrote in the late summer
of 2011 to show that he was indeed a responsible person on the
side of the angels.

That is what public virtue amounts to in today’s America in the
wake of the great Obama betrayal.

Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the
University of Pittsburgh.

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