I think Obama is going to find harder slogging than he expects based on his experience to date. He’s going to find being chief executive a different experience than being the perpetual candidate, and I don’t see any signs he has the skills for the former. 

Obama is learning that people trust what you say based on the context in which you speak. The most dramatic example of this phenomenon occurs when smooth-talking sociopaths go on trial. Such sociopaths have spent their lives using their glib charm to manipulate people who give them the benefit of the doubt. They come to believe they can talk their way out of any circumstance. When they get on the stand at their trial they intuitively assume that the same benefit of a doubt exists. It does not. The jury looks at them with suspicion and all their superficial charm and glibness do them no good. Without the benefit of the doubt, the jury listens to what they say not how they say it. They usually end up in jail.

Obama will face something of the same effect. All of his life he has been the up-and-coming ernest black man in a political subculture that fawns over such people. He’s never really had to decide and to produce. He campaigned on being himself. He campaigned on the story of being the first black president. People listened to him in the context of partaking in the story of the first black president. As president, he no longer has that context. He’s no longer the mythic story but just another politician. People listen to him with a certain suspicion. They want to know the specific whys and hows of his proposals. 

Obama isn’t the inspiring story anymore. He’s just another huckster with a spiel. It remains to be seen if he can adapt. 

[Update(2009-2-10-1:14pm): Some commenters seem to think I argued that Obama is a sociopath. I didn’t intend to make that connection. Rather, I simply used the failure in the context of a trial of a sociopath’s legendary glib charm and ability to manipulate people as an extreme version of how a context shift alters people’s acceptance of a speaker’s assertions.]


19 thoughts on “Salesman-In-Chief”

  1. Well of course you’re right that Obama is a sociopath. He’s a con artist with a narcissitic personality disorder. It’s no wonder he’s run off to Elkhart Indiana to be on the campaign trail again. That’s what he loves; being loved by the masses. The other thing he loves is giving away other people’s money to people who will love him for it.

    But all of this was obvious long before he was elected. So what do you mean by “It remains to be seen if he can adapt.”

    Adapt to what? Adapt to being the president of the United States? No offense, but what does such an “adaptation” consist of? How do you “adapt” to do something that you have no experience doing?

    Obama is a pathetic shill out of Chicago who has no idea who he’s being run by. But they’re the ones who will tell him what to “adapt” to.

  2. Gina,

    Well of course you’re right that Obama is a sociopath.

    I didn’t say Obama was a sociopath, I used the sociopath on trial as an extreme example of context shift.

    Obama just your run of the mill narcissist just like everyone else who spends their life in politics.

  3. Why is he making jaunts around the country in campaign-like meetings? If one is the chief exec. AND if there is a huge crisis it seems reasonable that one would be behind the desk studying, directing, making calls to legislators, etc. with little opportunity or desire to be making speeches. Partly it is the recent, stupid, and patronizing role of the president as cheerleader and hand-holder. Partly (and this is the scary part) it might be that he is not capable of administrative work.

    Mostly though, Shannon is probably spot on. It is what he is; it is what he knows how to do.

  4. wow! cut some slack. How long has he been president? How long did it take you to jump all over Bush. If ever? He is out across the nation to sell his stimulus plan. FDR got on the air to do his thing. Bush went into hiding at his ranch every week and was never around. All this name calling amounts to –Nada. You know what should be done then let’s hear it your porposals, your plan, to get us on track again instead of the bad mouthing at every turn.

  5. It’s fairly common for an executive, especially a recently-appointed one, to spend his time on things he likes & is good at rather than things that need doing. In fact, a very common organization structure looks like the following:

    VP of stuff CEO likes #1
    VP of stuff CEO likes #2
    VP of stuff CEO likes #3
    VP of stuff CEO likes #4
    VP of all the stuff CEO doesn’t like
    –Director of stuff CEO doesn’t like #1
    –Director of stuff CEO doesn’t like #2

    This structure allows the CEO to meddle in all the stuff he’s interested in, while putting the stuff he’s not interested in all under one guy so he (the CEO) doesn’t have to think about it. While it makes things psychologically easier & more fun for the CEO, it doesn’t usually work out very well in practice.

  6. James Hurley,

    How long has he been president?

    Well, if you look back in our post from last year, you will see that we predicted that Obama’s lack of experience and his dependence on selling himself would get him into trouble and now it has. We have correctly predicted Obama’s weakness to date so it is reasonable to assume we will predict his future behavior as well.

    How long did it take you to jump all over Bush. If ever?

    Well, if you read my post over the last two years I think it rather clear that apart from my support for Bush as a President in war time, there wasn’t much about the Bush administration of which I approved. Didn’t like TARP, didn’t like most of the “compassionate conservative” leftist-light solutions that Bush put out. Didn’t agree with his stance on abortion, didn’t agree with the embryo stem cell ban, etc. To the extent that I liked Bush, I liked him in comparison to the leftism that he stood somewhat in opposition to. He managed to forestall much silliness that we will no be burdened with.

    The idea that a classical liberal like myself just drooled over Bush is silly.

  7. Cheeflo,

    If it walks like and duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

    All politicians exhibit such narcissistic behavior that they might be mistaken for sociopaths at first glance. The weathervane politicians that do what is good for them at the moment especially, so. I don’t see Obama as being special in this regard.

    I do think that as a leftist he is more arrogant and willing to bend the world to his individual will than a someone one the right, especially a religious conservative, would be but I don’t think he shows signs of being particularly self-centered for a national politician.

  8. Happyfeet,

    Just because you don’t like or trust someone doesn’t make them a sociopath. Leftist accused Bush of being a sociopath merely because they disagreed with him. It doesn’t make sense to turn around and do the same thing to Obama.

  9. Robertl,

    Clinton is a good model. He to charmed his way to the Presidency with a compliant press and then imploded. People forget that the first two years of the Clinton administration where a train wreck and that he alienated almost all his supporters by being mercurial and untrustworthy in the game of political horse trading. He only regained his popularity on the left after the shocking defeat of 1994 when the Republicans regained the house for the first time in 40 years. From then on the media and academia worked to defend Clinton because he was their only bulwark against an ideological blowout.

  10. James Hurley writes:

    “He is out across the nation to sell his stimulus plan.”

    What stimulus plan? The bill that was just passed is not a stimulus plan. If it were a stimulus plan, the money would be spent mostly in the next 24 months to give the economy a shot in the arm. OR… here’s a novel idea: it would allow more people to keep the money they earned and spend or invest it as they see fit.

  11. U.S. neo-conservatives, with their commitment to high military spending and the global assertion of national values, tend to be more authoritarian than hard right. By contrast, neo-liberals, opposed to such moral leadership and, more especially, the ensuing demands on the tax payer, belong to a further right but less authoritarian region. Paradoxically, the “free market”, in neo-con parlance, also allows for the large-scale subsidy of the military-industrial complex, a considerable degree of corporate welfare, and protectionism when deemed in the national interest. These are viewed by neo-libs as impediments to the unfettered market forces that they champion.

  12. Anonymous,

    Be honest, you have no parameters for what makes a person a “neo-conservative” other than you just don’t like them. You couldn’t list, say, five attributes that “neo-conservative” all have in common.

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