President Obama and his democratic supporters regularly say things of such manifest foolishness as to raise questions about their relationship to reality. For example, they press for a new energy policy to combat Anthropogenic Global Warming in the middle of a cooling trend (going on 10 years), with no practical/scalable alternatives yet in sight, and insist that it will create jobs, when even the most economically illiterate among us know that raising the price of energy during a recession will damage the economy and cost jobs. On their other great initiative, Universal Health Insurance, with the government option as the insurer of last resort, the proposal is to increase the number of insured (which will lead to greater utilization) while not increasing the expense (or the number of Physicians.) Somehow, magically, this will not lead to rationing and will end up saving money. The president expresses these ideas with the most solemn of visage and deep certainty. This leads to a few possible explanations:
Perhaps President Obama suffers from the usual ailment of politicians (and much of the public), that is, mathematical illiteracy in which 2 + 2 not only does not have to equal 4 but can equal anything we wish it to. Only those who believe that money simply appears out of thin air (or perhaps grows on trees) can believe we can have everything we want without having to pay for it, but there are certainly plenty of people who do indeed believe in such nonsense.
It is possible that President Obama is much wiser, more deeply cynical, and even nefariously calculating, ie, that he knows his numbers are fantastical but he has a design. He will increase the size of government, increase dependency, and the economy will grow nonetheless, or the resulting economy deprivation as in the 1930s, will eventuate in an increase in Federal power. (Flash Gordon made this argument in a comment to my last post on The Limits of Reductionism.)
There is even the mirror argument on the far right to the left's argument of Bush's impending fascist take over under cover of the threat of terror, to wit, that Obama plans on leveraging our economic crisis into a left wing take over of the government a la Hugo Chavez, et al. I consider this to be in the same realm of paranoid fantasy as the Bush fascism delusion, but mention it for completeness.
In an interesting set of comments to The Limits of Reductionism, Gloria, David Foster, and M_O_M all commented on the amorality of the liberal agenda. Their comments are worth reading (and I hope they expand on them.) In particular, I am intrigued by M_O_M's comment that:
SW, I think it's not that Obama believes he has sufficient information. I think Obama doesn't believe one needs information at all. Yes, he is that much of a dunderhead.
He has incorporated the "do the right thing and things will work better" principle of Judeo-Christian tradition into his world view, but his world view doesn't incorporate the other component of Judaic tradition - standing the test of history and honoring and studying tradition. Without that component one is adrift on a sea of noble aspirations.
All three commenters are concerned with the ways in which the individual is effaced by the left/liberal ideology, often with the "best of intentions." Barack Obama wants the world to be a fairer place (and who can argue with such a desire?) yet because he doesn't understand what he doesn't understand (that humans are neither cyphers nor enemies just because they do not agree with him and agree to the sacrifices he demands) he misidentifies his enemies. He certainly leaves the impression that Republicans and Conservatives are much greater enemies than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez.
[Roger Kimball (HT: Glenn Reynolds) puts Obama's policies into the context of "punitive liberalism" in which past injustice must be addressed by present injustice. In this case, the fact that various policies can't and won't work is less important than their utility in redressing grievances. This is an homage to envy and revenge, two of our more powerful motivators.]
I suspect there is a different, more post-modern explanation for the kinds of fantastical misstatements, denials, and overt fabrications that have become regular emanations from the President and his supporters, that is the force of their ideology in concert with their intellectual predilections leads to a kind of perverse relationship to reality, in which their wishes become indistinguishable from their perceptions. This is, unfortunately, extremely common and is an integral part of the "pathology of everyday life." It is the quintessential malady of the modern welfare state model of the world.
The Post-Modernist world view, supreme in the Academy for the last 30 years or so, takes a small piece of reality and elevates and expands it to become an all encompassing theory of reality. [Our perceptions are, in a very real and deep way, constructs. Our eyes take in light information, process it in a first pass in the retina, send the resulting filtered information to various centers of the brain which then integrate approximately twelve images (in effect twelve slices of reality or overlays) at a time to form a relatively coherent gestalt of current, perceived reality. As one might imagine, if we do so much mental work constructing a mere present tense image of our visual perceptions, how much more complex must be the ways in which we construct our larger pictures of reality? This idea, of constructed reality, became the basis for the Post-Modern structure (Deconstruction) so entrancing for academics. The ideas have been thoroughly misunderstood and misused, in much the same ways that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle has been misunderstood to hold that reality itself is inherently indeterminate and unpredictable. (Reality on quantum scales is indeed indeterminate, but those who popularized such ideas to raise questions about reality itself apparently missed the part where Quantum uncertainty disappears on more macro scales.)]
If reality is in some important way a construct, then wishing can make it so becomes an operative rule. A leader who is unaware that he is operating under such a rubric can sound as if he is out of touch. Barack Obama appears to be a man who spend considerable time trying to "find himself" during his youth, adopted an identity and has led an unexamined life ever since his internal contradictions, conflicts, and ambivalence were resolved by the discovery of his "true self."
Consider Mickey Kaus, who offers some excellent reasons for thinking that Obama does not understand what he is doing: [All emphasis in the original]
Dearth of a Salesman: President Obama gave interviews to a number of network health correspondents today as part of his health care push. Here is an "edited transcript" of his talk with Dr. Nancy Snyderman of NBC. As a health care sales pitch, it was awful. Why? Let's go to the videotape. [Emphasis added.]
Mickey Kaus is a supporter of Universal Health Care (more accurately, Universal Health Insurance) and here is the key point:
4) He doesn't seem to know that much. Obama is asked why he changed his mind about a requirement that individuals purchase insurance (which he opposed in the campaign):
[M]y concern was, if we post a mandate, then people who couldn't afford it still would not have the ability to pay for the health insurance that was out there that was available, except now they were also being punished.
But I've changed my mind on this because what I've — was persuaded of was that, if we can phase this in so that we know there's affordable insurance out there — and, in fact, a lot of the uninsured are relatively young people who could be insured fairly cheaply — that that actually will drive down the cost for everybody
Huh? It was news to him that "a lot of the uninsured are relatively young people who could be insured fairly cheaply"? Even I knew that.
Obama does twist Snyderman's question--into another condescending bit of pedagogy:
So there's an example of, if the president of the United States can get educated on something and change their mind. I have confidence that the American people, when they get all the facts, will see that we can improve quality.
Yikes. If passage of health care depends on Obama's ability to educate the American people and change their mind--which, thankfully, it doesn't--we're in big trouble. The American people don't have to have their minds changed! They voted for Obama!
Whatever the explanation for the President's apparent disregard for reality and truth, even basic math, the danger for him, his party, and his agenda is that once the veneer of competence is lost by a Chief Executive, it is almost impossible to get it back. Most Americans admire Barack Obama's accomplishments and have a great investment in his competence. Most people do not concern themselves with the minutia of governance and would be happy with a government that does its job without making them worry too much. Most Americans are also not fools (consider Lincoln's famous comment) and are not ready to surrender their perceptions to the President. Thousand page plus bills that are never read by those who vote on them worry people. A $787 billion stimulus that hasn't stimulated worries people. President Obama is on the verge of losing his appearance of competence. When Mickey Kaus notes that
"(Obama) doesn't seem to know that much"
and in response to Obama's apparently recent discovery that "a lot of the uninsured are relatively young people" says,
"Huh? It was news to him that "a lot of the uninsured are relatively young people who could be insured fairly cheaply"? Even I knew that."
Obama is in trouble. People invested huge amounts of hope in Obama and accepted him as a wise, highly intelligent candidate who presented himself as a pragmatic transformative President.
(During the campaign I noted that there was little actual evidence in his writings or his no scripted comments that he had any particular intellectual gifts, but he did have credentials.)
It is likely and becoming more evident that among other things Barack Obama has been so deeply steeped in the PoMo "ether" that he cannot even recognize when his constructed world has become completely disconnected form consensus reality. At such points, his tendency is to "double down" on his bets, demonize his opponents, and make more speeches repeating the nonsense. With a 60 vote majority in the Senate and a compliant House leadership it is possible that much or some of the liberal agenda will become law in the next several months. We will all pay an incredible fee for policies that are meant to make liberals feel more virtuous and caring. However, the seeds of Obama's fall are already germinating and whether we have Universal Health Insurance or not, his appearance of competence is rapidly eroding.
[For a good discussion of the same kinds of unrecognized ignorance, where "wishes are horses", in the international realm, please take a look at Barry Rubin's insightful piece, When journalists say there's no such thing as truth the world is in big trouble. As Barry notes, when the brilliant ignoramus loses the distinction between reality and their preferred constructed reality, blood flows.]
Update: M_O_M is planning on actually reading the Healthcare bill in its entirety! I doubt that any of our Congressmen or women or any of our Senators will take the time to read and understand what they are debating. She also notes Ann Althouse's comment:
Since I have been given no time to figure it out, I will ram through my explanation: They don't want us to see how terrible it is. My working theory must be it's a horror. Therefore, I am vehemently opposed to it. Aren't you?
To help protect her mental health I would like to urge M_O_M to go slowly, take plenty of breaks, and approach the bill as a piece of absurdist comedy, perhaps a modern day PoMo version of Ionesco, where nothing has to mean anything at all.