Posts Tagged ‘Unified Theory of Obama’

Does the real Krauthammer believe Obama is trying to destroy America or not?

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer attempted to synthesize the Republican narrative about Obama into what I have termed, “The Unified Theory of Obama,” that, in its many parts has been adopted by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and many others. Krauthammer took the many individual stories harped on by each of these right wingers and unified them into a single theory. He maintained that “The current liberal ascendancy in the United States–controlling the executive and both houses of Congress, dominating the media and elite culture–has set us on a course for decline.” This course is not – in Krauthammer’s telling – accidental. This New Liberalism has chosen to “gradually, deliberately, willingly, and indeed relievedly give” up American dominance. The domestic and foreign policy of New Liberalism “work synergistically to ensure” that America will lose power through the “demolition of the moral foundation of American dominance,” “engaging in moral reparations” for our many imagined sins, dithering over Afghanistan, preferring “social goods over security needs,” undermining the individualism at the heart of America’s dominance, &tc.

Krauthammer lays out no general principles unifying his highly partisan interpretation of various Obama administration actions aside from a deliberate attempt to ensure America’s decline in power. Why do liberals want to address climate change? Because it will cause America to decline in power. Why do liberals want health care reform? Because it will cause America to decline in power, making us more like European social democracies. Krauthammer doesn’t see much reason to dwell on the positive reasons for any liberal agenda.

Krauthammer’s thesis is that this New Liberalism advocates a foreign policy “designed to produce American decline” and a domestic policy that is “not designed to curb our power abroad. But what it lacks in intent, it makes up in effect.”

Fast forward five months, and see if you can tell the individual writing this column still thinks Obama is subjecting America to an assault designed to destroy its power:

True, the rotation of power inevitably results in stops and starts and policy zigzags. Yet for all its inefficiency, it ultimately helps create a near-miraculous social stability by setting down layers of legitimacy every time the opposition adopts some of its predecessor’s reforms — while at the same time allowing challenges to fundamental assumptions before they become fossilized.

Krauthammer’s columns are meant to function differently than his long-form more “intellectual” pieces. They are supposed to pull less partisan readers towards him, to influence them, to pry them away from liberalism; his longer pieces are directed at a more partisan audience, and are supposed to represent some intellectual foundation.

But what I want to know is who the real Charles Krauthammer is. Does the real Krauthammer believe Obama is trying to destroy America or not?

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Obama: “I do not accept second place for the United States of America”

Friday, February 5th, 2010

I’ve been meaning to draw attention to Edward Alden’s political take on the most significant sentence in Obama’s State of the Union:

President Obama’s best bipartisan applause line of the speech–“I do not accept second place for the United States of America”–should become the mantra for his administration’s effort to revive its faltering agenda. It captured the central theme of his speech–that the failure of those in the country’s most powerful institutions to rise above their narrow, immediate interests has paralyzed America’s ability to tackle an urgent series of challenges that threaten its future prosperity and global leadership. Yet while Washington fiddles, Wall Street gambles, and the media chortles, other countries are moving ahead.

E. J. Dionne comments on the same line in a column for The New Republic identifying what he labels the sleeper issue of 2010: American decline.

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

One thing no one has commented upon is how well this narrative refutes the narrative the right wing is building. I noticed some time earlier that Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and much of the right wing had been coalescing around the narrative they were pushing about Obama – which I called the Unified Theory of Obama. The conclusion of all their various claims – the story that tied them all together was this:

Therefore, Obama is using his presidency to deliberately and radically weaken America – by spending more money than it can afford to; by destroying its economy with health care reform and cap and trade; by giving up America’s moral leadership of the world (by bowing to foreign leaders and apologizing for past mistakes); by engaging in “various kinds of strategic retreat, most particularly in reversing policies stained by even the hint of American unilateralism or exceptionalism;” by moving away from the Bush administration’s foreign policy and national security approaches thus giving “encouragement — aid and comfort — to the enemy.”

[Image not subject to copyright.]

A Unified Theory of Obama

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Last week, Politico’s John F. Harris wrote a story detailing 7 different stories “Obama doesn’t want told.” Its a misleading headline – as it is about anti-Obama memes that Republicans are trying to get the media to cover. Andrew Sullivan takes the set of Republican talking points offered as a news story, observing:

What strikes me about the attacks is how scattershot they are. The right wants to argue both that Obama is a mean-ass Chicago pol and a push-over… The inconsistencies are legion, because, I suspect, Obama’s enemies have yet to get a single, compelling narrative that rings true. They didn’t manage it in the campaign and they have not managed it since. He’s too big and interesting a figure to be caricatured that way. [my emphasis]

I think both Harris and Sullivan have missed something though – a single, compelling narrative that has been developing about Obama, and one that rings true to a significant subset of Americans. I call it the Unified Theory of Obama. It involves several, though not all, of these narratives listed by Harris. Charles Krauthammer wrote the best single synthesis of this theory in a cover piece for The Weekly Standard last month entitled “Decline is a Choice.” The piece was a brilliant example of “the Big Lie” which is plausible only after a leap of faith, but which because of its sheer audacity affects the entire political conversation. The core “insight” Krauthammer offered was that Obama’s liberalism is a deliberate attempt to undermine America’s power in the world both domestically and abroad. Postulating that the decline of American power is a choice, he suggests that Obama is deliberately choosing to make America decline in power.

You can see this narrative coming together if you listen to enough talk radio. See this interview with Rush Limbaughthis article by Charles Krauthammerthis speech, upon which the article was based; this interview with Krathammer; and this profile of Krauthammer in the National Review which oddly is behind a firewall unlike most of National Review‘s content.) You can see the narrative animating the statements of Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, of Charles Krauthammer, of Sean Hannity, and of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck (though these last two also have potential to go off script.)

The narrative goes like this:

This narrative is audacious. And it’s compelling. And it ties so many anti-Obama memes together. It goes well with the ominous music constantly playing on Sean Hannity’s television show. It goes well with the transformation of right wing politics and media into a form of entertainment in which news is presented as if it is the plot of a thriller.* This narrative explains why Obama is popular around the world. (“Europeans like to see the hegemon diminished, and Obama is the perfect man to do that.”) It provides an explanation (about the only plausible one) for why Republicans should be so adamant in their opposition to everything Obama proposes. It provides a storyline that can rally the base behind any alternative candidate. It taps into the inchoate sense that “something’s wrong.” It provides a scapegoat for the end of America’s unipolar moment. Those who feel they are “losing the America they knew” are also given a scapegoat. (“America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.”) It plays off of the foundation of anti-Obama attacks from the 2008 campaign – that he was somehow foreign, un-American, radical. The various factual inaccuracies in this narrative are unimportant – because it is fundamentally so at odds with reality that it requires a leap of faith to believe in the first place.

All of these pieces are directed only to the faithful. They aren’t meant for the general public. They are meant to keep the faithful in line. And despite the fact that Krauthammer has articulated this Unified Theory of Obama to the faithful, his columns have not pushed this rather extreme take on the President. Instead, Krauthammer chips away at Obama with smaller pieces attacking this and that, while for the sake of each column conceding that Obama might not be an anti-American radical intent on destroying the nation, as he tries to get the public to see this bigger picture one piece at a time.

This, I believe, is the narrative that the next Republican nominee will carry into the 2012 election in some form. I believe it will founder specifically because most Americans will balk at someone characterizing the president as anti-American. But Krauthammer and his allies have several years to try to figure out how to sell this message – how to convince a majority of Americans to accept it, or barring that how to rally the base using it while keeping it away from the rest of us. And The Weekly Standard has already determined the logical proponent of this Unified Theory of Obama, the logical response to Obama’s “new liberalism – someone to carry Republicans to victory in 2012 by leading a “new populist” movement:

Someone who will give voice to the millions who don’t want government aggrandizing the powerful; who don’t want government risking dangerous fiscal imbalances; who do want public policies that create the conditions for a general prosperity. Someone, in other words, who can play the same role in contemporary politics that Jackson, Bryan, and Reagan did in the past.

She lives in Alaska.

Edit: Two other “unified theories of Obama” that are more sympathetic can be found in Jonathan Chait’s description of Obama using civility and respect as political weapons and in Andrew Sullivan’s description of Obama as a Road Runner constantly inducing his opponents to overstep a la Wile E. Coyote.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

*Not my own idea. It’s from a piece in The New Republic from this November which I can’t find online. Update: The piece by Jason Zengerle is now online.