I keep thinking about Barack Obama’s dilemma represented by his “thumping,” his “mega-defeat.” (That’s not me talking: those are the words of the veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, so don’t anyone go accusing me of racism, or something.) What is Obama going to do? How will he govern? His previous attitude had been pretty much true to his declaration “I won”, but now that there’s the (Republican) devil to pay and no pitch hot, will he negotiate with those who hold differing perspectives on life and governance? And will he do so in good faith?
Good questions all.
From where I am sitting, it does not look good. When you wish to be transformative, you are generally not talking about being transactional: that is to say, willing to work productively with others. Moreover, if you think of yourself as being on the right side of history, you put yourself in the same league with every self-annointed visionary who claims to know the future and therefore arrogates to himself the right to drive things in a particular direction. Not very good company, all those true believers. Just look at the historical record.
But I can justify my pessimism by more mundane means. Many commentators have described aspects of Obama’s personality as narcissistic (Charles Krauthammer) or even malignantly narcissistic (James Lewis). I don’t like psychologizing about people I have not assessed myself, but I have to admit that sometimes the symptoms are so obvious, even from afar, that something can be said. And, in my view, malignant narcissism is a good fit. In which case, a question like “Does Obama even know how to negotiate?” (Megan McArdle) is a very good one. And even Chris Matthews, the quintessential Obama workhorse, hit the nail on the head in this brief but remarkably accurate rant.
So, whether the primary problem here is ideological or developmental, I suspect that, over the next two years, we are in for a very rough ride.
On the other hand, with both houses of Congress and most gubernatorial mansions now in the hands of “the enemy of the people,” much of Obama’s narcissisistic rage may be dissipated or at least contained. This has already happened to some degree: though the 112th and 113th Congresses have been scoffed at as do-nothing Congresses, they were in fact nothing of the sort. They managed to largely block Obama’s compulsion to be “on the right side of history,” which is already a very great deal. One can only hope that this worthy labor will continue, with happy results for this country.