Le pacifisme est objectivement pro-fasciste. C’est du bon sens élémentaire. George Orwell
The real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right. As a practicing psychologist with more than 25 years of experience, I will resist the temptation to diagnose at a distance, but as a scientist and strategic consultant I will venture some hypotheses. The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb — that “centrist” voters like “centrist” politicians. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Centrist voters prefer honest politicians who help them solve their problems. A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted « present » (instead of « yea » or « nay ») 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues. Drew Westen (Emory university, Aug. 2011)
Les démocrates, voici trois décennies, ont réussi à faire élire Jimmy Carter après avoir organisé une débâcle au Vietnam. On pourrait voir survenir, je n’ai pas été le seul à le dire, le second mandat de Jimmy Carter – voire pire encore, car Obama est nettement plus à gauche que Carter : la débâcle que souhaitaient ardemment les démocrates cette année pour parvenir à leurs fins n’a pas eu lieu en Irak, mais au New York Stock Exchange. La brève ère Carter avait apporté la stagflation, les files d’attente devant les stations services, la plus grande avancée soviétique sur la planète depuis 1945, et l’arrivée au pouvoir de Khomeyni. Que réserveraient de nouvelles années Carter ? Je préfère n’y pas songer… Guy Millière (octobre 2008)
L’ambassade des Etats-Unis au Caire condamne les efforts déployés par des individus malavisés consistant à blesser les sentiments religieux des musulmans, comme nous condamnons les efforts visant à offenser les croyants de toutes les religions.(…) Nous rejetons fermement les actions de ceux qui abusent de la liberté d’expression pour blesser les convictions religieuses d’autrui. Communiqué de l’ambassade américaine au Caire
Je condamne fermement cette attaque scandaleuse contre notre mission diplomatique à Benghazi qui a coûté la vie à quatre Américains, dont l’ambassadeur Chris Stevens […] Les Etats-Unis rejettent les efforts visant à dénigrer les croyances religieuses des autres, et nous devons tous, de façon non équivoque, nous opposer à ce genre de violence insensée qui coûte la vie à des fonctionnaires. Barack Obama
Je suis scandalisé par les attaques contre les missions diplomatiques américaines en Libye et en Egypte et par la mort d’un agent du consulat américain à Benghazi. (…) Il est scandaleux que la première réponse de l’administration Obama n’ait pas consisté à condamner les attaques mais plutôt à sympathiser avec ceux qui ont les ont menés. (…) S’excuser des valeurs américaines n’est jamais la chose à faire. Mitt Romney
La déclaration de l’ambassade américaine du Caire n’avait pas reçu l’agrément de Washington et ne reflétait pas l’opinion du gouvernement américain. Membre de l’Administration Obama
Cela montre les signaux ambigus que cette administration envoie au monde (…) Il n’est jamais trop tôt pour l’administration américaine de condamner des attaques menées contre des Américains et de défendre nos valeurs. Mitt Romney
Il y a une leçon à tirer de cette affaire : on dirait que le gouverneur Romney a tendance à tirer d’abord et viser ensuite. En tant que président, l’une des choses que j’ai apprises est que l’on ne peut pas faire cela. Il est important de s’assurer que les déclarations que vous effectuez sont soutenues par les faits, et que vous avez pensé à toutes les conséquences avant de les prononcer. Président Obama
It’s a make believe world. A world of good guys and bad guys, where some politicians shoot first and ask questions later. No hard choices. No sacrifice. No tough decisions. It sounds too good to be true – and it is. The path of fantasy leads to irresponsibility. The path of reality leads to hope and peace. President Jimmy Carter (about Reagan, Democratic National Convention, 1980)
Pour la Fondation Quilliam, un cercle de réflexion londonien présidé par Noman Benotman, ex-chef de file d’un mouvement islamiste armé qui combattait le régime de Kadhafi, l’opération pourrait avoir été organisée pour venger la mort du numéro deux d’Al-Qaida, Abou Yahya Al-Libi, tué par un drone américain au Pakistan. La veille de l’attaque de Benghazi, une vidéo dans laquelle Ayman Al-Zaouahri, chef de file du mouvement, confirme sa mort et invite les Libyens à la venger avait été diffusée sur internet. Noman Benotman précise que, d’après ses sources, une vingtaine d’activistes ont pris part aux préparatifs de l’attaque. Le Monde
Détention pendant neufs mois de membres d’ONG occidentaux dont 16 Américains et le fils du Secrétaire américain aux transports au Caire, profanation d’un cimetière militaire britannique en mars, attaque à la bombe artisanale contre la mission diplomatique américaine et tir de roquette sur le convoi de l’ambassadeur britannique en juin à Benghazi …
A l’heure où, avec la commémoration musclée (avec lance-roquettes et mortiers, s’il vous plait!) des attentats du 11 septembre qui a vu, sous prétexte d’un film anti-islam d’origine apparemment plutôt douteuse, le sac de l’ambassade américaine au Caire et l’assassinat de quatre diplomates américains dont l’ambassadeur à Benghazi …
Et les habituelles réactions d’auto-flagellation de l’Administration Obama qui, après avoir aidé les islamistes libyens à se débarrasser de Khaddafi, continue à plus d’un milliard de dollars par an à financer un gouvernement islamique toujours plus radical au Caire …
Nos médias à la mémoire courte se réjouissent déjà, à deux mois de la présidentielle de novembre, du « nouveau faux pas » du candidat républicain Mitt Romney qui a eu le malheur de vouloir pointer l’évidence …
Remise des pendules à l’heure, avec l’analyste militaire Victor Davis Hanson, qui rappelle que l’actuelle administration américaine ne fait en fait que récolter les fruits d’une politique systématique d’apaisement face à la violence islamique …
Ressemblant étrangement, à une trentaine d’années de distan
ce, à celle qui avait marqué la fin du mandat d’un certain Jimmy Carter …
Victor Davis Hanson
September 12, 2012
The attacks on the U.S. embassy yesterday in Cairo and the storming of the American consulate in Libya, where the U.S. ambassador was murdered along with three staff members — and the initial official American reaction to the mayhem — are all reprehensible, each in their own way. Let us sort out this terrible chain of events.
Timing: The assaults came exactly on the eleventh anniversary of bin Laden’s and al-Qaeda’s attack on America. If there was any doubt about the intent of the timing, the appearance of black al-Qaedist flags among the mobs removed it. The chanting of Osama bin Laden’s name made it doubly clear who were the heroes of the Egyptian mob. Why should we be surprised by the lackluster response of the Egyptian and Libyan “authorities” to protect diplomatic sanctuaries, given the nature of the “governments” in both countries? One of the Egyptian demonstration’s organizers was Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the brother of the top deputy to Osama bin Laden, and a planner of the 9/11 attacks, which were led by Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian citizen. In Libya, the sick violence is reminding the world that the problem in the Middle East is not dictators propped up by the U.S. — Qaddafi was an archenemy of the U.S. — but the proverbial Arab Street that can blame everything and everyone, from a cartoon to a video, for the wages of its own self-induced pathologies. So far, all the Arab Spring is accomplishing is removing the dictatorial props and authoritarian excuses for grass roots Middle East madness.
Ingratitude: Egypt is currently a beneficiary of more than $1 billion in annual American aid, and its new Muslim Brotherhood–led government is negotiating to have much of its sizable U.S. debt forgiven. Libya, remember, was the recipient of the Obama administration’s “lead from behind” intervention that led to the removal of Moammar Qaddafi — and apparently gave the present demonstrators the freedom to kill Americans. This is all called “smart” diplomacy.
Appeasement: Here are a few sentences from the statement issued by the Cairo embassy before it was attacked: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. . . .We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
The Problem? The embassy was condemning not those zealots who then stormed their own grounds, but some eccentric private citizens back home who made a movie.
One would have thought that the Obama administration had learned something from the Rushdie fatwa and prophet cartoon incidents. This initial official American diplomatic reaction — to condemn the supposed excess of free speech in the United States, as if the government is responsible for the constitutionally-protected expression of a few private American citizens, while the Egyptian government is not responsible for a mass demonstration and violence against an embassy of the United States — is not just shameful, but absurd. The author of this American diplomatic statement should be fired immediately — as well as any diplomatic personnel who approved it. Obviously our official representatives overseas do not understand, or have not read, the U.S. Constitution. And if the administration claims the embassy that issued the appeasing statement did so without authority, then we have a larger problem with freelancing diplomats who across the globe weigh in with statements that supposedly do not reflect official policy. Note, however, that the initial diplomatic communiqué is the logical extension of this administration’s rhetoric (see below).
Shame: As gratitude for our overthrowing a cruel despot in Libya, Libyan extremists have murdered the American ambassador and his staffers. The Libyan government, such as it is there, either cannot or will not protect U.S. diplomatic personnel. And the world wonders why last year the U.S. bombed one group of Libyan cutthroats only to aid another.
The attacks in Egypt come a little over three years after the embarrassing Obama Cairo speech, in which the president created an entire mythology about the history of Islam, in vain hopes of appeasing his Egyptian hosts. The violence also follows ongoing comical efforts of the administration to assure us that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is not an extremist Islamic organization bent on turning Egypt into a theocratic state. And the attacks are simultaneous with President Obama’s ongoing and crude efforts to embarrass Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The future. Expect more violence. The Libyan murderers are now empowered, and, like the infamous Iranian hostage-takers, feel their government either supports them or can’t stop them. The crowd in Egypt knew what it was doing when it chanted Obama’s name juxtaposed to Osama’s.
Obama’s effort to appease Islam is an utter failure, as we see in various polls that show no change in anti-American attitudes in the Middle East — despite the president’s initial al Arabiya interview (“We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect.”); the rantings of National Intelligence Director James Clapper (e.g., “The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ . . . is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.”); and the absurdities of our NASA director (“When I became the NASA administrator . . . perhaps foremost, he [President Obama] wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science.”) — to cite only a few examples from many.
At some point, someone in the administration is going to fathom that the more one seeks to appease radical Islam, the more the latter despises the appeaser.
These terrible attacks on the anniversary of 9/11 are extremely significant. They come right at a time when we are considering an aggregate $1 trillion cutback in defense over the next decade. They should give make us cautious about proposed intervention in Syria. They leave our Arab Spring policy in tatters, and the whole “reset” approach to the Middle East incoherent. They embarrass any who continue to contextualize radical Islamic violence. The juxtaposed chants of “Osama” and “Obama” in Egypt make a mockery of the recent “We killed Osama” spiking the football at the Democratic convention. And they remind us why 2012 is sadly looking a lot like 1980 — when in a similar election year, in a similarly minded administration, the proverbial chickens of four years of “smart” diplomacy tragically came home to roost.
Victor Davis Hanson
September 12, 2012
We are in scary times. The horrific photos of Ambassador Stevens bring to mind memories of Mogadishu or Fallujah, and make us ask why were there not dozens, if not vastly more, Marines around him in his hour of need. By preemptively caving into radical Islam and not defending the U.S. Constitution and our traditions of protecting even uncouth expression, the Cairo embassy’s shameful communiqué only invited greater hostility by such manifest appeasement.
I’m afraid that a number of hostile entities abroad will be reviewing all this in the context of the last four years and surmising that this may be the best time, as in 1979–1980 (e.g., Russians in Afghanistan, Communist take-overs in Central America, the Chinese invading Vietnam, hostages in Tehran, etc.), to cash in their chips. Radical Islamists knew that their governments in Egypt and Libya either would not, or could not, do anything when they went after Americans; talk of radical defense cuts and American financial implosion may encourage others to take chances when in the past they would not have; there is trouble brewing in Asian waters over disputed territories and perceptions that the U.S., whether conventionally or even in the nuclear sense, is not quite the strong ally of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines that it once was; when we snub the Israeli prime minister, after a long series of earlier slights, the message goes out to Tehran that the U.S. is not entirely sure that it will aid Israel in its coming time of crisis. And by now we have heard enough Cairo-like speeches, al Arabiya interviews, and seen enough bows to know that we can always find yet a new way to be culpable even for self-induced Middle East pathologies.
Note the recurrent theme: We always blame the wrong entities. We fault Netanyahu for making a supposed pest of himself for reminding us of Tehran’s nuclear progress. We go after the nuts who made the anti-Muslim movie rather than the far greater danger of bloodthirsty Islamists who would murder to deny all free speech. When a Major Hasan goes on his rampage, our chief of staff of the army immediately laments the danger to our diversity program. We fret that KSM might not get his civil trial, or a Mutallab his Miranda rights. As Coptics are targeted, we assure ourselves that the Muslim Brotherhood is secular, and on and on.
Le candidat républicain a-t-il fait un nouveau faux pas en s’attaquant directement au président Obama sur sa gestion des incidents meurtriers en Libye ? Mitt Romney n’a-t-il pas pris un trop grand risque en sortant de sa réserve et en quittant son terrain favori, l’économie, pour s’engouffrer tête baissée sur celui de la politique étrangère ? C’est ce que tend à croire une majorité de la presse américaine qui, mercredi 12 septembre, titrait de concert sur « l’isolement » de Romney.
« Après une flambée de critiques, la plupart des républicains à Washington, même parmi les critiques les plus virulents de Barack Obama, se sont joints aux démocrates pour dénoncer les violentes attaques contre les ambassades américaines en Egypte et en Libye, tout en résistant à la tentation de critiquer la réponse qu’y a apportée l’administration Obama », rapporte le New York Times. A l’instar du sénateur républicain du Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, qui a déclaré mercredi : « Nous rendons hommage aux Américains qui ont perdu la vie en Libye et affichons notre unité dans la réponse qu’il faut y apporter. »
Ce message d’unité qu’est venu délivrer un parterre de républicains au Sénat est apparu en parfait contraste avec la ligne adoptée par leur candidat à la présidentielle, Mitt Romney. Dès mardi soir, sans attendre la fin de la trêve partisane imposée par les commémorations du 11-Septembre, le candidat républicain a qualifié de « honteuse » la réaction du gouvernement de Barack Obama aux attaques anti-américaines en Egypte et en Libye et l’a accusé de sympathies pour les extrémistes musulmans. « S’excuser des valeurs américaines n’est jamais la chose à faire », a-t-il ajouté, en référence à la condamnation par l’ambassade américaine au Caire du film à l’origine de ces violences. Sans se formaliser toutefois que le communiqué ait été publié avant même l’irruption des violences pour apaiser la rue égyptienne.
A lire en anglais sur la BBC, les réactions aux attaques des ambassades américaines au Caire et à Benghazi.
« DES ATTAQUES POLITICIENNES »
L’équipe de campagne de M. Obama a rapidement riposté aux critiques de M. Romney, son porte-parole Ben LaBolt lui reprochant de lancer des « attaques politiciennes » le jour d’un pareil drame, rapporte le site Politico. Le sénateur démocrate du Massachusetts, John Kerry, a appelé Mitt Romney à s’excuser pour ses commentaires qu’il a qualifiés d’irresponsables et insensibles. Pourtant, dans un nouveau message mercredi, le candidat républicain a réitéré ses attaques contre l’administration Obama, tout en se défendant des critiques exprimées par les démocrates. « La Maison Blanche a pris ses distances hier soir avec le communiqué [publié par l’ambassade américaine au Caire], assurant qu’il n’avait pas été validé à Washington. Cela montre les signaux ambigus que cette administration envoie au monde », a jugé M. Romney.
Lire : Aux Etats-Unis, les républicains exploitent l’attaque de Benghazi
La critique faite à Mitt Romney par les démocrates a été largement partagée par la presse américaine, qui a tiré à boulets rouges sur le candidat républicain, indique le Huffington Post. Sur la chaîne de télévision NBC, le journaliste Chuck Todd a qualifié ses déclarations d » »irresponsables » et d' »erreur », rapporte le site Internet The Raw Story. Un autre journaliste de la chaîne, Lawrence O’Donnell, avait plus tôt estimé que le camp Romney aurait mieux fait de « ne rien dire car dans ces cas-là (…), la seule chose qui va attirer l’attention est de dire une chose stupide, ce qu’ils ont réussi à faire ». Le journaliste du National Journal Ron Fournier a également qualifié ces attaques de « maladroites » et « inexactes ». L’expert conservateur Erick Ericson, bien qu’en désaccord avec la réponse de Chuck Tood, a lui aussi appelé Mitt Romney à la prudence. Aux yeux de tous, le candidat Romney a parlé un peu trop vite.
« LE TEST DU CHEF DES ARMÉES »
« Le va-et-vient entre les camps Obama et Romney a constitué un rare échange partisan sur une crise de politique étrangère sur fond d’événements en cours et a mis en lumière l’intensité et les enjeux de la campagne à moins de deux mois du jour de l’élection », commente le New York Times. Cette crise intervient, en effet, à brule-pourpoint pour Mitt Romney, qui s’évertue à défendre son programme de politique étrangère, sérieusement attaqué par le camp démocrate, note encore le quotidien américain.
Il avait fait l’objet de virulentes critiques dans le camp démocrate, mais aussi de certains dans son camp, pour n’avoir pas fait mention de la guerre en Afghanistan ou des troupes américaines à l’étranger durant son discours à la convention républicaine de Tampa. Une occasion qu’avait saisie le camp Obama pour le présenter comme un candidat inexpérimenté et mal préparé pour devenir chef des armées.
« TIRER D’ABORD ET VISER ENSUITE »
Le candidat démocrate a d’ailleurs rapidement profité de la situation, estimant mercredi qu' »il y a une leçon à tirer de cette affaire : on dirait que le gouverneur Romney a tendance à tirer d’abord et viser ensuite ». « En tant que président, l’une des choses que j’ai apprises est que l’on ne peut pas faire cela. Il est important de s’assurer que les déclarations que vous effectuez sont soutenues par les faits, et que vous avez pensé à toutes les conséquences avant de les prononcer », a poursuivi M. Obama dans un entretien à la chaîne CBS.
Pour le camp Obama, les attaques de Mitt Romney sont une nouvelle occasion de lui faire passer « le test du chef des armées », indique le Washington Post. Même si cette joute verbale en matière de politique étrangère ne devrait pas changer fondamentalement la donne d’une élection qui se joue sur le terrain économique. « Si les gens ne s’intéressent pas à la politique étrangère en tant que telle, ils veulent/ont besoin de voir que la personne qu’ils mettent à la Maison Blanche a le leadership pour représenter son pays sur la scène internationale », indique le quotidien.
Or, par ses attaques « empressées » et « hors-propos », Mitt Romney vient de se tirer une balle dans le pied, estime le site Buzzfeed. Les pontes républicains de la politique étrangère ont multiplié les critiques, rapporte le site américain. « C’est un désastre absolu, a ainsi commenté l’un d’entre eux. Nous voyons maintenant que c’est parce qu’ils sont incapables de parler efficacement de politique étrangère. C’est incroyable : quand ils décident de jouer sur ce terrain, ils bousillent tout. »
Ne reste plus au camp Obama qu’à faire en sorte que tous gardent en mémoire une réaction qui n’a rien de « présidentielle », ajoute le Washington Post. Et de démontrer que, sur cette affaire comme en politique étrangère, Barack Obama demeure la personne la mieux placée. Comme le pensent déjà 51 % des électeurs sondés récemment par le Washington Post-ABC News.
Voir de même:
The New York Times
August 6, 2011
Drew Westen is a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”
It was a blustery day in Washington on Jan. 20, 2009, as it often seems to be on the day of a presidential inauguration. As I stood with my 8-year-old daughter, watching the president deliver his inaugural address, I had a feeling of unease. It wasn’t just that the man who could be so eloquent had seemingly chosen not to be on this auspicious occasion, although that turned out to be a troubling harbinger of things to come. It was that there was a story the American people were waiting to hear — and needed to hear — but he didn’t tell it. And in the ensuing months he continued not to tell it, no matter how outrageous the slings and arrows his opponents threw at him.
The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to “expect” stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought. Our species existed for more than 100,000 years before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the majority of humans would know how to read and write.
Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and “news stories” that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories; the holy books of the three great monotheistic religions are written in parables; and as research in cognitive science has shown, lawyers whose closing arguments tell a story win jury trials against their legal adversaries who just lay out “the facts of the case.”
When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.
In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety. What they were waiting for, in broad strokes, was a story something like this:
“I know you’re scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can’t promise that we won’t make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again.” A story isn’t a policy. But that simple narrative — and the policies that would naturally have flowed from it — would have inoculated against much of what was to come in the intervening two and a half years of failed government, idled factories and idled hands. That story would have made clear that the president understood that the American people had given Democrats the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress to fix the mess the Republicans and Wall Street had made of the country, and that this would not be a power-sharing arrangement. It would have made clear that the problem wasn’t tax-and-spend liberalism or the deficit — a deficit that didn’t exist until George W. Bush gave nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks largely to the wealthiest Americans and squandered $1 trillion in two wars.
And perhaps most important, it would have offered a clear, compelling alternative to the dominant narrative of the right, that our problem is not due to spending on things like the pensions of firefighters, but to the fact that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it.
But there was no story — and there has been none since.
In similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right. Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it. He promised to do something no president had done before: to use the resources of the United States to put Americans directly to work, building the infrastructure we still rely on today. He swore to keep the people who had caused the crisis out of the halls of power, and he made good on that promise. In a 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, he thundered, “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”
When Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office, he stepped into a cycle of American history, best exemplified by F.D.R. and his distant cousin, Teddy. After a great technological revolution or a major economic transition, as when America changed from a nation of farmers to an urban industrial one, there is often a period of great concentration of wealth, and with it, a concentration of power in the wealthy. That’s what we saw in 1928, and that’s what we see today. At some point that power is exercised so injudiciously, and the lives of so many become so unbearable, that a period of reform ensues — and a charismatic reformer emerges to lead that renewal. In that sense, Teddy Roosevelt started the cycle of reform his cousin picked up 30 years later, as he began efforts to bust the trusts and regulate the railroads, exercise federal power over the banks and the nation’s food supply, and protect America’s land and wildlife, creating the modern environmental movement.
Those were the shoes — that was the historic role — that Americans elected Barack Obama to fill. The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation.
When Dr. King spoke of the great arc bending toward justice, he did not mean that we should wait for it to bend. He exhorted others to put their full weight behind it, and he gave his life speaking with a voice that cut through the blistering force of water cannons and the gnashing teeth of police dogs. He preached the gospel of nonviolence, but he knew that whether a bully hid behind a club or a poll tax, the only effective response was to face the bully down, and to make the bully show his true and repugnant face in public.
In contrast, when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it. Had the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a century. He would have offered them a counternarrative of how to fix the problem other than the politics of appeasement, one that emphasized creating economic demand and consumer confidence by putting consumers back to work. He would have had to stare down those who had wrecked the economy, and he would have had to tolerate their hatred if not welcome it. But the arc of his temperament just didn’t bend that far.
The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history was his handling of the stimulus. The public was desperate for a leader who would speak with confidence, and they were ready to follow wherever the president led. Yet instead of indicting the economic policies and principles that had just eliminated eight million jobs, in the most damaging of the tic-like gestures of compromise that have become the hallmark of his presidency — and against the advice of multiple Nobel-Prize-winning economists — he backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert. The result, as predicted in advance, was a half-stimulus that half-stimulated the economy. That, in turn, led the White House to feel rightly unappreciated for having saved the country from another Great Depression but in the unenviable position of having to argue a counterfactual — that something terrible might have happened had it not half-acted.
To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem. In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, “stick.” Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would “bend the cost curve”), or why “credit card reform” had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn’t seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they’re still unemployed, they’re still worried about how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can’t get a job. And now the Republicans are chipping away at unemployment insurance, and the president is making his usual impotent verbal exhortations after bargaining it away.
What makes the “deficit debate” we just experienced seem so surreal is how divorced the conversation in Washington has been from conversations around the kitchen table everywhere else in America. Although I am a scientist by training, over the last several years, as a messaging consultant to nonprofit groups and Democratic leaders, I have studied the way voters think and feel, talking to them in plain language. At this point, I have interacted in person or virtually with more than 50,000 Americans on a range of issues, from taxes and deficits to abortion and immigration.
The average voter is far more worried about jobs than about the deficit, which few were talking about while Bush and the Republican Congress were running it up. The conventional wisdom is that Americans hate government, and if you ask the question in the abstract, people will certainly give you an earful about what government does wrong. But if you give them the choice between cutting the deficit and putting Americans back to work, it isn’t even close. But it’s not just jobs. Americans don’t share the priorities of either party on taxes, budgets or any of the things Congress and the president have just agreed to slash — or failed to slash, like subsidies to oil companies. When it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy, Americans are united across the political spectrum, supporting a message that says, “In times like these, millionaires ought to be giving to charity, not getting it.”
When pitted against a tough budget-cutting message straight from the mouth of its strongest advocates, swing voters vastly preferred a message that began, “The best way to reduce the deficit is to put Americans back to work.” This statement is far more consistent with what many economists are saying publicly — and what investors apparently believe, as evident in the nosedive the stock market took after the president and Congress “saved” the economy.
So where does that leave us?
Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, one that weds “revenue enhancements” (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with “entitlement cuts” (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who’ve worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president’s storytelling. He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production — two methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather Americans are now seeing. He supports a health care law that will use Medicaid to insure about 15 million more Americans and then endorses a budget plan that, through cuts to state budgets, will most likely decimate Medicaid and other essential programs for children, senior citizens and people who are vulnerable by virtue of disabilities or an economy that is getting weaker by the day. He gives a major speech on immigration reform after deporting more than 700,000 immigrants in two years, a pace faster than nearly any other period in American history.
The real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.
As a practicing psychologist with more than 25 years of experience, I will resist the temptation to diagnose at a distance, but as a scientist and strategic consultant I will venture some hypotheses.
The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb — that “centrist” voters like “centrist” politicians. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Centrist voters prefer honest politicians who help them solve their problems. A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted « present » (instead of « yea » or « nay ») 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.
A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election. Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in “Dreams From My Father” appended a chapter at the end that wasn’t there — the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.
Or perhaps, like so many politicians who come to Washington, he has already been consciously or unconsciously corrupted by a system that tests the souls even of people of tremendous integrity, by forcing them to dial for dollars — in the case of the modern presidency, for hundreds of millions of dollars. When he wants to be, the president is a brilliant and moving speaker, but his stories virtually always lack one element: the villain who caused the problem, who is always left out, described in impersonal terms, or described in passive voice, as if the cause of others’ misery has no agency and hence no culpability. Whether that reflects his aversion to conflict, an aversion to conflict with potential campaign donors that today cripples both parties’ ability to govern and threatens our democracy, or both, is unclear.
A final explanation is that he ran for president on two contradictory platforms: as a reformer who would clean up the system, and as a unity candidate who would transcend the lines of red and blue. He has pursued the one with which he is most comfortable given the constraints of his character, consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the message of confrontation.
But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 14, 2011
An opinion essay on Aug. 7 about President Obama’s leadership and principles referred incorrectly to the number of deportations under his presidency. More than 700,000 immigrants were deported during Mr. Obama’s first two years in office; it is not the case that a million immigrants were deported in 2010, the year Mr. Obama gave a speech on immigration reform. Also, a larger number of deportations occurred over the two terms of George W. Bush, Mr. Obama’s predecessor; Mr. Obama has not overseen more deportations than any other president.
About a year ago I and a number of others were engaged in broadcasting literary programmes to India, and among other things we broadcast a good deal of verse by contemporary and near-contemporary English writers — for example, Eliot, Herbert Read, Auden, Spender, Dylan Thomas, Henry Treece, Alex Comfort, Robert Bridges, Edmund Blunden, D. H. Lawrence. Whenever it was possible we had poems broadcast by the people who wrote them. Just why these particular programmes (a small and remote out-flanking movement in the radio war) were instituted there is no need to explain here, but I should add that the fact that we were broadcasting to an Indian audience dictated our technique to some extent. The essential point was that our literary broadcasts were aimed at the Indian university students, a small and hostile audience, unapproachable by anything that could be described as British propaganda. It was known in advance that we could not hope for more than a few thousand listeners at the most, and this gave us an excuse to be more ‘highbrow’ than is generally possible on the air.
Since I don’t suppose you want to fill an entire number of P.R. (Partisan Review) with squalid controversies imported from across the Atlantic, I will lump together the various letters you have sent on to me (from Messrs Savage, Woodcock and Comfort), as the central issue in all of them is the same. But I must afterwards deal separately with some points of fact raised in various of the letters.
Pacifism. Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security. Mr Savage remarks that ‘according to this type of reasoning, a German or Japanese pacifist would be “objectively pro-British”.’ But of course he would be! That is why pacifist activities are not permitted in those countries (in both of them the penalty is, or can be, beheading) while both the Germans and the Japanese do all they can to encourage the spread of pacifism in British and American territories. The Germans even run a spurious ‘freedom’ station which serves out pacifist propaganda indistinguishable from that of the P.P.U. They would stimulate pacifism in Russia as well if they could, but in that case they have tougher babies to deal with. In so far as it takes effect at all, pacifist propaganda can only be effective against those countries where a certain amount of freedom of speech is still permitted; in other words it is helpful to totalitarianism.
I am not interested in pacifism as a ‘moral phenomenon’. If Mr Savage and others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. So he will be to the Japanese if they get there. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force. But though not much interested in the ‘theory’ of pacifism, I am interested in the psychological processes by which pacifists who have started out with an alleged horror of violence end up with a marked tendency to be fascinated by the success and power of Nazism. Even pacifists who wouldn’t own to any such fascination are beginning to claim that a Nazi victory is desirable in itself. In the letter you sent on to me, Mr Comfort considers that an artist in occupied territory ought to ‘protest against such evils as he sees’, but considers that this is best done by ‘temporarily accepting the status quo’ (like Déat or Bergery, for instance?). a few weeks back he was hoping for a Nazi victory because of the stimulating effect it would have upon the arts:
As far as I can see, no therapy short of complete military defeat has any chance of re-establishing the common stability of literature and of the man in the street. One can imagine the greater the adversity the greater the sudden realization of a stream of imaginative work, and the greater the sudden katharsis of poetry, from the isolated interpretation of war as calamity to the realization of the imaginative and actual tragedy of Man. When we have access again to the literature of the war years in France, Poland and Czechoslovakia, I am confident that that is what we shall fined. (From a letter to Horizon.)
I pass over the money-sheltered ignorance capable of believing that literary life is still going on in, for instance, Poland, and remark merely that statements like this justify me in saying that our English pacifists are tending towards active pro-Fascism. But I don’t particularly object to that. What I object to is the intellectual cowardice of people who are objectively and to some extent emotionally pro-Fascist, but who don’t care to say so and take refuge behind the formula ‘I am just as anti-fascist as anyone, but—’. The result of this is that so-called peace propaganda is just as dishonest and intellectually disgusting as war propaganda. Like war propaganda, it concentrates on putting forward a ‘case’, obscuring the opponent’s point of view and avoiding awkward questions. The line normally followed is ‘Those who fight against Fascism go Fascist themselves.’ In order to evade the quite obvious objections that can be raised to this, the following propaganda-tricks are used:
The Fascizing processes occurring in Britain as a result of war are systematically exaggerated.
The actual record of Fascism, especially its pre-war history, is ignored or pooh-poohed as ‘propaganda’. Discussion of what the world would actually be like if the Axis dominated it is evaded.
Those who want to struggle against Fascism are accused of being wholehearted defenders of capitalist ‘democracy’. The fact that the rich everywhere tend to be pro-Fascist and the working class are nearly always anti-Fascist is hushed up.
It is tacitly pretended that the war is only between Britain and Germany. Mention of Russia and China, and their fate if Fascism is permitted to win, is avoided. (You won’t find one word about Russia or China in the three letters you sent to me.)
Now as to one or two points of fact which I must deal with if your correspondents’ letters are to be printed in full.
My past and present. Mr Woodcock tries to discredit me by saying that (a) I once served in the Indian Imperial Police, (b) I have written article for the Adelphi and was mixed up with the Trotskyists in Spain, and (c) that I am at the B.B.C. ‘conducting British propaganda to fox the Indian masses’. With regard to (a), it is quite true that I served five years in the Indian Police. It is also true that I gave up that job, partly because it didn’t suit me but mainly because I would not any longer be a servant of imperialism. I am against imperialism because I know something about it from the inside. The whole history of this is to be found in my writings, including a novel (Burmese Days) which I think I can claim was a kind of prophecy of what happened this year in Burma. (b) Of course I have written for the Adelphi. Why not? I once wrote an article for a vegetarian paper. Does that make me a vegetarian? I was associated with the Trotskyists in Spain. It was chance that I was serving in the P.O.U.M. militia and not another, and I largely disagreed with the P.O.U. M. ‘line’ and told its leaders so freely, but when they were afterwards accused of pro-Fascist activities I defended them as best it could. How does this contradict my present anti-Hitler attitude? It is news to me that Trotskyists are either pacifists or pro-Fascists. (c) Does Mr Woodcock really know what kind of stuff I put out in the Indian broadcasts? He does not — though I would be quite glad to tell him about it. He is careful not to mention what other people are associated with these Indian broadcasts. One for instance is Herbert Read, whom he mentions with approval. Others are T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Reginald Reynolds, Stephen Spender, J. B. S. Haldane, Tom Wintringham. Most of our broadcasters are Indian left-wing intellectual, from Liberals to Trotskyists, some of them bitterly anti-British. They don’t do it to ‘fox the Indian masses’ but because they know what a Fascist victory would mean to the chances of India’s independence. Why not try to find out what I am doing before accusing my good faith?
‘Mr Orwell is intellectual-hunting again’ (Mr Comfort). I have never attacked ‘the intellectuals’ or ‘the intelligentsia’ en bloc. I have used a lot of ink and done myself a lot of harm by attacking the successive literary cliques which have infested this country, not because they were intellectuals but precisely because they were not what I mean by true intellectuals. The life of a clique is about five years and I have been writing long enough to see three of them come and two go — the Catholic gang, the Stalinist gang, and the present pacifist or, as they are sometimes nicknamed, Fascifist gang. My case against all of them is that they write mentally dishonest propaganda and degrade literary criticism to mutual arse-licking. But even with these various schools I would differentiate between individuals. I would never think of coupling Christopher Dawson with Arnold Lunn, or Malraux with Palme Dutt, or Max Plowman with the Duke of Bedford. And even the work of one individual can exist at very different levels. For instance Mr Comfort himself wrote one poem I value greatly (‘The Atoll in the Mind’), and I wish he would write more of them instead of lifeless propaganda tracts dressed up as novels. But his letter he has chosen to send you is a different matter. Instead of answering what I have said he tries to prejudice an audience to whom I am little known by a misrepresentation of my general line and sneers about my ‘status’ in England. (A writer isn’t judged by his ‘status’, he is judged by his work.) That is on a par with ‘peace’ propaganda which has to avoid mention of Hitler’s invasion of Russian, and it is not what I mean by intellectual honesty. It is just because I do take the function of the intelligentsia seriously that I don’t like the sneers, libels, parrot phrased and financially profitable back-scratching which flourish in our English literary world, and perhaps in yours also.
George Orwell: ‘Pacifism and the War’
First published: Partisan Review. — GB, London. — August-September 1942.
— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.