Thursday, September 17, 2009
Obama Derangement Syndrome
During the years of the George W. Bush presidency, conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer defined a new disease, “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” which he defined as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.”Columnist Richard Haddad later described a similar condition “in which a person feels and expresses a degree of antipathy toward former U.S. President George W. Bush that is grossly out of proportion to any remark, proposal, or action of the former President, or to any combination of such or to the sum of Mr. Bush's weaknesses as the leader of his country.”I have seen this manifest in people who seem to believe that absolutely everything Bush did, ever, from conception, was wrong. If Bush had said that puppies are cute, there are people who would have never liked puppies again.Since Bush left office, the froth has left the mouths of some of his critics as they have found other things to think and talk about, while others still mumble “Bush lied, people died!!” in their sleep.Now, however, we are facing two manifestations of a new disorder, Obama Derangement Syndrome. It is showing up in people on the far right and the far left of American politics, though it manifests itself differently on different ends of the political spectrum.On the far right, ODS looks much like Bush DS. It is not simply disagreement with Obama’s policies or even disapproval of his entire political agenda. Many perfectly rational people disagree with his policies or disapprove of his politics, just as many rational people heartily approve of his policies and agree with his agenda. It goes far beyond that. It is belief or allegation that everything Obama says or does or thinks is evil and wrong. For example, Obama recently gave a speech in which he said that there are many good Muslim people in the US who contribute to the country and are fine and decent people. Something about to that effect, more or less, is what he said. He did not say that we are all Muslims, that unless we bow to Allah we shall all be beheaded, or anything to that effect. One could take the same speech and search and replace “Muslim” with “Buddhist”, “Hindu”, “Mormon”, “Catholic”, or “Southern Baptist” and the speech would have been reasonably accurate. But to hear some commentators, the mere acknowledgment of the obvious fact that there are many nice, decent Muslim people in the US was a declaration of Jihad. Now, I recognize that in many areas of the country, there are untold millions of people who have never met or seen a Muslim, and know them only from such notables as Osama bin-Laden. However, sheer math would tell the rational mind that not all the hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world want to blow us up. I have many fine and decent Muslim friends and clients, and none has ever tried to blow me up or fly a plane into my house. Indeed, I also know some first-class jerks who are Muslims, and even they have so far refrained from that. The fact is, even as much as I may differ with Obama on his politics and his agenda, sometimes he says something that is correct and true.Even if one accepts the notion that Obama is, in reality, a simmering cauldron of evil, it would simply be impossible for him to always spew lies. Even the devil tells the truth more often than not. The worst liars on earth tell the truth 90% of the time. But to hear some commentators, if Obama tells schoolchildren to study hard, it is some evil plot. If he tells African-American fathers to step up to the plate and be men, (something I think most Obama opponents and supporters would agree with), it must be some trick. But the man cannot always be wrong. If you ask him what time it is, he would probably tell the truth. Even I give him that much credit, and commentators who behave as though his every word and deed is wrong discredit legitimate opposition to his policies and politics. If Obama says he loved his grandma and likes apple pie, he probably loved his grandma and likes apple pie. I do not see that as a reason to banish grandmas and boycott apple pie.On the other end of the spectrum is a different kind of ODS, or what might better be called Obama Infallibility Derangement Syndrome. This is found among his left-wing supporters who believe that Obama is incapable of mistakes, that his name must be spoken with reverence approaching worship. These supporters would print his words in red letters when reported in the newspaper, and regard even any questioning of any aspect or item of his actions or agenda as a symptom of either lunacy or wickedness. These are supporters who, if Obama were found roasting and eating children, would praise his efforts to find alternate food sources and reduce overpopulation. They simply see him as incapable of any flaw or error whatsoever. Obama got lucky with this one. While this, of course, is as loony as a belief that he is incapable of anything but wrongness, poor Bush only had the anti-Bush derangement. He never had the fawning supporters who believed he was the Anointed.I see this as different from people in positions of power over information whose reporting is skewed by their support of his politics and agenda. That is simply biased reporting. It seems that, for the most part, the press corps is so devoted to Obama’s views as to have become lap dogs. If Obama passes gas, the adoring Washington press corps follows him the rest of the day hoping for another one. I do not believe that the press actually considers him infallible; they are lackeys with an agenda. While the adulation is hardly journalism, it is not lunacy any more than Baghdad Bob’s unwavering support of Saddam was. It is promotion. That love affair will eventually cool, especially if the press smell a juicy scandal that will sell advertising. The love of the press is fickle; they liked Bill Clinton but they loved Monica Lewinsky.The same may be said of certain anti-Obama radio commentators, whose agenda is ratings. A rant and an outrageous comment create controversy, which increases advertising dollars. That is profit motive, not lunacy, even if the comments may generally reflect the actual politics of the speaker.In contrast to deliberate promotion (or self-promotion), what I am talking about here is either blind acceptance or blind rejection of everything someone says and does. The problem with either extreme should be obvious. While each is far easier and more convenient than actually thinking, reflexive reactions are not an adequate substitute for reasoned consideration. Obama is not always right any more than he is always wrong. No man is.A reasonable truth-seeker hears the arguments and decides whether he or she accepts them, entirely or in part, based on whether they appear to be based in wisdom and agree with other things known to be true. Deranged people, even deranged people who generally agree with me, will make poor decisions and cannot be relied upon to act sensibly. (Deranged people who disagree with me, of course, will be even less likely to make good decisions, because in addition to being deranged they are wrong.) In any case, knee-jerk derangement reactions are a poor way to govern. Reasoned analysis of the rightness or wrongness, the prudence or imprudence, the feasibility or impracticality, the wisdom or folly of every course of action depends on the capacity of people and nations for rational thought. And on that depends the fate of the people and nations.