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  • He’s Just Not That Into Us

    Posted by David Foster on October 7th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Here’s George Orwell, writing in 1940 about England and the English:

    When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pintables in the Soho pubs, the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

    But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillarboxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches in to the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantlepiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

    And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillarboxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side of the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.

    George Orwell was a socialist. He wanted to see radical transformation in his society. But in the above passage, he displays real affection for the English people and their culture.

    Can anyone imagine Barack Obama writing something parallel to the above about America and the American people? To ask the question is to answer it. Clearly, Obama does not identify with America in the same sort of way that Orwell identified with England.

    Why, then, did Obama wish to become our President?

    Two analogies come to mind…

    Analogy #1: We are a young woman in a 19th-century English novel. Our personality is a bit quirky and not to everyone’s taste; however, we are good-looking by most standards, and we carry an enormous dowry.

    Obama is a young gentleman of scant means who finds us pretty strange and not really to his liking, but nevertheless has wooed us fervently, knowing that once we are married he will win the admiration of his friends–we’re considered a darned good catch–and will become quite wealthy. And he’s confident that in short order he will be able to use his charm and his authority over us to change our personality into something more to his liking.

    Analogy #2: We are a large corporation with a fabled history but also with some current problems. Obama is our new CEO. He has a very low opinion of our executives, our workers, and our product line. His previous experience, ever since leaving business school, has been as a consultant, teaching theories about strategy and restructuring. He is very eager to prove these theories out in practice, and he is prepared to be quite ruthless in eliminating traditionally-successful parts of the business–and ways of doing things–in order to implement his strategic vision.

     

    17 Responses to “He’s Just Not That Into Us”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      I think Obama sees himself as being “above” any identifications of country or culture. To identify himself as an American would be to limit and restrain himself and to imply that someone else has some claim on his actions and choices. In this, he is just a standard leftists.

      Obama and other leftists see political office, judicial office, academic position, journalistic positions etc as merely mechanism of power by which they exert their will upon those less intellectually and morally capable than themselves (from the purest motives of course!) He wants to be president of the United States purely because it gives him power to (as he sees it) improve the world.

      He sees nothing special or unique in America and especially sees nothing of the past he would like to preserve. Like all leftists, he sees America as being gravely flawed to the point it needs to burnt down to the ground and rebuilt. He sees the Presidency as a mechanism for doing so and nothing more.

      I think this explains he studied indifference to traditional foreign policy and military matters. He doesn’t see these areas as important to him and his transformation of the country so he just off loads them onto people peripheral to his administration. He has no conception as those areas being the key responsibility of office of the Presidency because he cares little for the traditions or even modern context of the office. For him, the Presidency is just a mechanism of power to be used as he wishes and nothing more. It does not come with inherent obligations and responsibilities.

    2. Andrew_M_Garland Says:

      Two insights into Obama.

      Richard Epstein discusses Barack Obama

      Richard Epstein is the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 1972. He was a colleague of Barack Obama when Obama taught as an instructor. Epstein had mutual friends with Obama, and talked to Obama about some issues. His main description is that Obama is under complete self-control

      “Obama worked as a community organizer and was in many cases very constructive. He organized public/private partnerships to help the homeless and downtrodden.”

      “But, the difficulty you get, for someone who has only worked in that situation, is that he believes the creation of private wealth is something the government cannot influence or destroy. He has many fancy redistribution schemes, in addition to his health plan and new labor laws, which are all wealth killers.”

      Obama and God

      When God talks to you through your inner voice, it is better than prayer. Obama experiences this every day, in his own words, revealed in a March 2004 interview with a reporter on religious issues. It may be good when a person declares their submision to God. It may be bad when he claims to have a daily conversation.

    3. Ginny Says:

      To be human is to be prideful and covet. To be a grown up is to recognize that and then try to control the quite human tendency to fail. If, however, we accept a belief system that looks for these flaws in others rather than ourselves, we are ill equipped to develop the necessary self-discipline and humility.

      Is it his vices that Obama learned to discipline? Did he try to develop the appropriate humility that comes from a broader horizon, a longr time frame & some gratitude from those that came before? Or is his ambition to control the presentation, the image?

    4. Gregory Koster Says:

      Dear Mr. Foster: I think your analogy 2 is close but, shucks, what sort of “business school” training has The One had? Columbia and Harvard Law? Good God! (Side question: what happens when lawyers become Prez? Don’t ask me, ask Wilson, Nixon, Clinton for your answer.) There’s a prescription for vanity and arrogance. Why go to all that foofaraw about companies and dowries and 19th centry heroines of English novels? Why not use the good old fashioned pleasure of ordering people around, telling them it’s for their own good, and then making them salute while whining Yassuh, boss. That’s the sort of vision that gets The One’s pulse racing. He does love “America” the one where he is at the center of all goodness. It explains why he slouches around the world saying what a checkered history American had and has, but he’ll fix it with large doses of castor oil administered at 200 pounds per square inch pressure, and then gulp in shock when his spur of the moment chasing of the spotlight leads him to parachute into Copenhagen, and say:

      It would be a great coup for Me if you gave it to Hizzoner and his/my Chi buddies and all that loot. And Mishy would like to recapture the feeling of sitting in her old man’s lap when she was 20, watching Carl Lewis, squealing with joy. Or was that Roman Polanski’s lap? Whatever, thanks for giving it to Us.

      Then slinking away, kicking the poor dam Portuguese dog—again—while blaming the Right for hating America.

      Sometime, stop reading George “The Lion and the Unicorn” Orwell, and try George THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER Orwell. The evocation of England is a wee bit different, but just as authentic, unlike The One’s own story DREAMS FROM MY OLD MAN, CASH TO ME, THE WORK TO BILLY AYERS.

      Sincerely yours,
      Gregory Koster

    5. david foster Says:

      Greg…I’ve indeed read (skimmed, at least) “Road to Wigan Pier.” Here’s an interesting quote:

      “In the metabolism of the Western world the coal-miner
      is second in importance only to the man who ploughs the soil. He is a sort of caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything that is not grimy is supported.”

      As an asthmatic, Orwell was certainly aware of the negative aspects of coal as a fuel; however, he realized that the world needed energy and was willing to honor those who provided it. Again, an interesting contrast to the Obama-ites…can you imagine any of them writing something similar about the people who work on offshore oil platforms?

    6. Dove Says:

      Psychoanalyzing the opposition has got to be the weakest possible form of criticism. It is an ad hominem attack that has the extra advantage of needing no commitment to reality–it needs only appear plausible to the sympathetic reader, who has every reason to wish it true. I used to think peering into the enemy’s heart through a clouded crystal ball was some strange pathology of the left, but now I think it may just be a emotional salve for anyone who’s out of power.

      I’m all for understanding the motivation of important folks, but this is getting to be a bit much. You all are better than this.

    7. ChicagoBozo Says:

      Sir–
      Orwell’s England then is not the same England that exists today. Orwell was a great writer; Obama is not a writer but a lawyer, political figure. England never had nor ever will have the multitudes, the diversity that is America and so no one can write in a way that that would reflect America in the same manner that Orwell depicted his England.

      In fact, you are merely using the Orwell piece \to dump on a president you happen not to like. A rather round about way of telling us about your dislike, no?

    8. david foster Says:

      Dove…I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about analyzing the character of national leades. Certainly it’s important to assess and debate individual policy proposals; it’s also important to look at the common threads among these proposals, and these are determined to a large extent by the leader’s world-view.

      Suppose you were running a business and you had a manager working for you who repeatedly made what you considered bad business decisions. And suppose that the guy also, thru various comments he has made, gives the impression that he thinks your business *doesn’ deserve to succeed.* Wouldn’t you give this factor, as well as the individual business failures, some significant weight in deciding whether or not to retain him in his job?

      And a U.S. President is indeed our employee, and we are totally entitled to ask whether he is being primarily driven by a serious attempt to pursue *our* interests.

    9. david foster Says:

      CBozo…”Orwell was a great writer; Obama is not a writer but a lawyer, political figure”

      A very significant part of Obama’s support came from the belief that he was an eloquent writer and speaker. It certainly wasn’t due to his executive experience or his legislative record.

    10. Percy Dovetonsils Says:

      In terms of the “Obama as transformative CEO” concept; such CEOs frequently have to lay off/fire scads of people in an effort to change the organizational culture.

      So how will Obama “lay off” the 48% of people who did not vote for him, or the roughly 50% (depending on the poll) who currently disapprove of his performance?

    11. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “But, the difficulty you get, for someone who has only worked in that situation, is that he believes the creation of private wealth is something the government cannot influence or destroy. He has many fancy redistribution schemes, in addition to his health plan and new labor laws, which are all wealth killers.”

      This brings to mind an essay, Lament for a Nation. The writer is comparing Gorbachev to Obama, a comparison that hadn’t previously occurred to me but which seems apt.

      Both men have been praised for their wonderful temperaments, and their ability to remain unperturbed by approaching catastrophe. But again, the substance is different, for Gorbachev’s temperament was that of a survivor of many previous catastrophes.

      Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.

      Gorbachev seemed to assume, right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and then beyond it, that his Communist Party would recover from any temporary setbacks, and that the long-term effects of his glasnost and perestroika could only be to make it bigger and stronger.

      There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.

      A variant of this is the frequently expressed denial of the law of unintended consequences: the belief that, if the effect you intend is good, the actual effect must be similarly happy.

      Very small children, the mad, and certain extinct primitive tribes, have shared in this belief system, but only the fully college-educated liberal has the vocabulary to make it sound plausible.

      With an incredible rapidity, America’s status as the world’s pre-eminent superpower is now passing away. This is a function both of the nearly systematic abandonment of U.S. interests and allies overseas, with

      I think this is quite insightful. The name of the essay, of course, come from another famous essay in Canada and was probably chosen for that reason.

    12. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Sorry, I cut off the last line of that essay.

      metastasizing debt and bureaucracy on the home front.

    13. Helen Says:

      I am not sure you can really compare Orwell and Obama in any real sense though I take your point that the latter is supposed to be some kind of an intellectual. Orwell was something of an anomaly among left-wing writers and many politicians even at the time. That is why he wrote “The Lion and the Unicorn”. He felt that the Left had no feeling or understanding for England or Britain (mostly England). Part of that inability to understand or sympathize was love for the Soviet Union, an effect rather than the cause and part of it was unbearable and irrational sentimentality about the “workers”. He first got into trouble with the Left not when he wrote “Homage to Catalonia” but when he wrote “The Road to Wigan Pier”. He is clear-eyed and unsentimental. I am not sure he understood the working class as well as he thought he did but he certainly had sympathy for its individual members and did not see it as one amorphous group.

    14. Stuhlmann Says:

      You ask why did Obama want to become president. You may as well ask why Orwell did not want to become prime minister. How many US presidential candidates of the last 20 years can you picture writing something parallel to what Orwell wrote? How many of those were successful?

    15. Ginny Says:

      Okay, psychoanalyzing may not be appropriate. But when we have a leader whose reasons for policy appear based on no experiential data nor no context from history as we know it, how the hell can we predict the policies under which we may be living in the next few years?

      Historically, it has always been important to understand what makes a leader tick. That Obama’s world view is as conspiracy-bound, ahistorical and asymmetrical as Chomsky’s may not be attractive, but is something we should know. That he thinks the engine of our system (both politically and economically) will run smoothly after an appropriate amount of sugar is applied (vote fraud, opacity, taking over large swaths of the economy, potential cultural regulation on a grand scale) seems so obtuse we may be drawn to ask how he came up with this policy. We may suspect its roots are more psychological than intellectual in origin. Maybe not. We also might suspect he is the sum of our educational system and culture.

    16. sol vason Says:

      I prefer option 3: The Manchurian Candidate.

    17. Dove Says:

      Oh, I am not against trying to understand how people think. But the best way is to ask them, or to examine what they tell you about themselves by word or deed. There’s genuine and valuable work to be done there. But writing stories based on personal impressions — that’s a different thing entirely.

      On this topic, we must distinguish between anatomy and pornography. Anatomy would be examining the writings and deeds of a figure to uncover his philosophy. The sort of thing you might read in a biography of George Washington. But speculating freely about what an emotionally shabby fellow someone must be, way down deep inside . . . well, I think that’s pornography.