Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post No. 76: The Morning After

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

I have some thoughts about this Barack Obama. However, I must first disclose that I’m not necessarily a good judge of people. I’m always confused when people say, “I’m a good judge of character.”

Hell, everyone has character. It just reveals itself in different ways and in different situations depending on the person. So what makes people think that they’ve cornered the market on evaluating others? Usually our evaluations of others have more to do with what we think about ourselves than them.

I’ve often said that I am an “All Comers Kind of Guy.” I can find something interesting, and of value, about virtually anyone. Seriously.

That may be the reason why I’ve never been married nor had a desire to have children. It would just be too confusing for people to deal with me on a regular basis. (The Laughingman claims that he finally figured this marriage problem out, after a couple of failed attempts. At the first sign of loneliness… or any baser, prurient desire… he simply walks to the Strand, finds a woman he can’t stand, and buys her a house, thus avoiding both lawyers and broken crockery.)

Now, getting to the point, throughout the day yesterday, I repeatedly asked myself, “Who is Barack Obama, and why are people saying all of these things about him?”

I have no facts upon which to base my suspicions. I have not read any of his books, and I have not spoken to any of his friends or confidantes. I don’t even know the guy. This is just a visceral, gut-level assessment, watching him evolve during the past 18 months.

We’ve often heard him called a “mystery man” and an “enigma.” I believe that it is because he does not share our “mainstream” values. By values, I am not referring to all of the rhetoric about being a socialist or leftist, about which we heard so much during the last year.

From the perspective of an outsider simply watching human interaction, in a way, Obama's interaction with his wife speaks volumes, at least to me, about where his head is at. It’s my suspicion that it is an intellectual and principle-based love, not the usual physicality and security-based “love,” to which so many of us subject ourselves. It’s not about, “You make me feel special,” but rather, “We’re special together.”

It’s the ultimate form of interpersonal respect.

Their relationship strikes me as the type of cutting-edge heterosexual relationship, where the collaborative nature of the partnership trumps each partner’s personal issues. We suspect that we will see more and more of this as humankind dives into the abyss of further complexity.

(Quite honestly, I suspect it is perhaps more akin to relationships during the day when getting killed by a beast in the wild was a more pressing issue than the possibility that your spouse slept with a neighbor, or the amount of time you spent at home versus work.)

I also get the impression that he's detached, not from the issues, but from the fray, and in a good way. He's on a mission of more significance and importance than having his personal issues addressed. He believes that it is more about the moment than about him. As I’ve often said with some degree of grammatical imperfection, “It’s bigger than you and me, and it’s bigger than the here and now.”

(In my view, Bill Clinton never appreciated that concept, especially considering the manner in which he approached his defense during the Monica Lewinsky era.)

I do not have a good enough feel for Michelle to make the same call, but I suspect that she has similar motivations. That’s, what I suspect, drew them to one another.

Additionally, their kids just look grounded – for a reason. Something tells me that their parents have addressed them as intellectual and pragmatic beings, not mini-drones to be dictated to, and through which the parents’ inadequacies are expressed.

I'm not sure that he really wanted to be President per se, like Bill Clinton. But “No Drama Obama” has been pinned to him for a reason.

Here's something else. On “Morning Joe” on MSNBC this morning, Joe Klein told a story about being on the campaign trail, when Michelle asked him whether he was going to write a book about the Obama family, referring to "Primary Colors." Barack instantly quipped, "Oh Michelle, that won’t happen. We're too boring."

The guy doesn't seem to have an ego. (Hard to believe, isn’t it?) He's relatively dismissive of unbelievable personal attacks. Somewhere in his youth, he learned to tune out all the crap which makes most of us become insecure.

He understands that the moment is really not about him, and that’s why he is so receptive to the views of others. He just happens to be here at a certain place in time in history. It’s more about synchronicity, as Jung would put it, or serendipity, as Kundera would submit.

Interestingly, last night on Tavis Smiley on PBS, Tavis aired an interview of Obama some years ago. Barack indicated that his first priority was his family, and the second addressing the needs of the people of the State of Illinois. I actually think that is the truth in this instance, as compared to most Presidents, CEOS, and financial heavyweights, who might say it and desire it, but not really believe it themselves.

Additionally, I think that he is a big, big picture guy, not a technocrat, and he flows naturally. I watched him and Michelle walk through that school on National Service Day this past Monday, and they really seemed to be interested in each and every one of the people with whom they came into contact, which is extremely unusual for politicians. On a pragmatic level, they typically can not do that. There’s no time to engage.

I do not get the sense that much about his style is contrived. To borrow a phrase from an old Dramatics song, “What you see is what you get.” He's a very cool customer. I am sure that some will consider him to be the Anti-Christ.

When he first burst on the scene, I paid absolutely no attention to him for 2 reasons. The first was that I did not believe that America was ready to elect a black President. (Even though it has done so, I still do not believe that it is ready.)

However, the second was that I did not listen to him, nor did I actually observe him. I simply assumed that he fit the mold of most politicians, and that he had a decent enough background as a Negro not to overly alarm folks, and that he had the good sense not to piss them off. (Like he cared.)

It took over a year for me to pay any attention to this young man, and listen to anything that he had to say. It’s been an evolutionary process; however, I would submit that it was I who evolved. He stayed right on message, consistently throughout.

And so you see, I think that his seemingly inexplicable popularity is based on a tone, a style, an attitude, an essence, all of which we should not consider in the selection of a national leader.

But we were obviously looking for something different, even if he did not embody experience. In a way, we said to ourselves, “Enough of the old stuff. It’s obviously not working. It’s time to find a new church.”

And here we find ourselves, in probably the worst situation most of us have ever known. We had to reach out and try to grasp something. Obviously it had to be something “different.”

To be fair, in the last 2 years, it would be hard to find an instance where President Obama screwed up anything of functional significance, and 2 years is a long time for a mere mortal to not put a foot wrong. Even his Cabinet nominations seem to be based more on talent and competence than any sort of political dogma. (Imagine that.)

It remains to be seen how, and if, he will be able to manage any of these opposing views; but he has hit the ground running faster than any other administration in recent memory.

Perhaps this is what we were all longing for - pragmatism, collaboration, and competence.

Perhaps we have had our fill of Senor Wences, and his Topo Gigio sidekicks, keeping the plates spinning in the air, while nothing else gets done. (For those of you for whom this has no significance, check with someone who remembers the old Ed Sullivan Shows.)

Perhaps political theater, outside of Shakespearian tragedies, is going the way of the dodo.

I may be all wrong. After all, I’m the guy who told you that I can generally look at a politician speaking on C-Span and immediately venture a guess as to whether they are progressive or conservative, based purely on visual factors. Consequently, you shouldn’t take me seriously. I’m just another goofball.

However, this is not outside the realm of possibilities. The reason we may not know Barack Obama is because we’re accustomed to evaluating the show, the make-up, and the results of the practice, the special effects, and the spin.

We may be seeing perhaps the first “real person” to run for presidential office in the last 200 years. (And you thought that Sarah Palin was of that species.) Not being accustomed to seeing real people, we may not be able to identify the alien that he is.

Alien or not, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could actually suck up all of our personal prejudices, and give this guy a chance?

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense


  1. Well, I'm impressed!!
    You start out saying you don't even know the man and then go on to--in my humble opinion--describe the very best about him, and in great detail. I marvel at how clearly you have portrayed him as a contrast to your attempt to be "uninterested." Great symbolic parallelism. I had a big let down after my own blog about how I felt this election marked a truly significant change. I realized there are still so many folks out there who cannot begin to understand what anyone sees in Obama. I think that is because he is not the familiar model of a politician and he is not the typical model of a "black" person. Were he either of these he could never have grasped the brass ring.
    As you said, "Alien or not, wouldn't it be wonderful (to)give this guy a chance?"
    Absolutely! So, I will.

  2. Hello,

    Thank You for the comment you left, though personaly I think love is always worth fighting for if it is true and real.

  3. Thanks Dan. This young man comes from a different place and with a different sensibility. He does not view the world in the manner in which the typical citizen does, and yet he is cognizant of everyday citizen concerns. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. It is going to take a while to assess Obama's skills at running this country. Give him a chance? The voting public did that last November. What he needs now is our patience, contrary to popular belief, Obama cannot make our problems go away with a wave of a magic wand.

  5. Great post! You know-I don’t think ‘a person’s character’ has much to do with it at the beginning. That’s not something anyone can define unless their psychic. Even if our initial gut feeling is that there may be something askew, a ‘reasonable’ person will give everyone the benefit of the doubt - ‘a chance’ (as you say) - until situations prove otherwise. Only a closed minded- (do I need to say it? Yes - LOOSER!) assumes the worst at the beginning of any relationship.

    And I completely agree on the point of the Obama’s being what we define as 'real' people. I heard a reporter ask Michelle something in regards to her influences on her husband and she said, “I’m the one that tells him to pick his socks up off the floor.”

    They openly display the affection towards each other and their children in a way we really haven’t seen with a presidential family before.
    In fact, yesterday, I noticed that Barrack and Michele occasionally diverted their attention to what was at hand to address one of their girls first. (Especially during the ’endless’ parade) I’d say that’s pretty ‘real.’

    I’m looking forward to what this administration brings. I think we’re in for a good year.

    And I fathom you never married because you’re just to pretty Logistician.
    You’re not suppose to be prettier than ‘us girls!”

  6. I guess I am too old and set in my cynical ways. I still saw a lot of political theater during the campaign. I see it in the scene you described as
    "they really seemed to be interested in each and every one of the people with whom they came into contact, which is extremely unusual for politicians." It is anything but unusual for politicians. It is the essential core of the art of campaigning. What was that old line? "Sincerity... when you can fake that, you have it made."

    I certainly do not think Obama is a phony. What I think is that he is a politician. He has his handlers, he has his cronies, he'll make some good decisions and some bad. I hope that the bad ones are of little import and the good ones are timely and where needed.

  7. Thanks Jonathan:

    C-Span2 Book TV aired a program a week or two ago featuring a presidential historian who had recently written a book. He indicated that upon reading the Federalist papers and other documents of the era, the Founding Fathers did not anticipate that the President would have that much power. They were still concerned about the abuse of power by the monarchies / kings of Europe, and did not want to concentrate that much power in the hands of any single individual. Apparently there was extensive debate about the title to be used for this person.

    Theoretically, the President is the head of the executive branch and is to execute the laws

    The President theoretically "presides" over the Executive Branch, and has some enumerated powers. However, he is theoretically supposed to execute the laws promulgated by the legislative body.

    In the eyes of many politican scientists, the president's greatest power is that derived from having the "bully pulpit." It should also be kept in mind that Vice-President Cheney and others sought to increase the power of the presidency over the past 8 years.

    With the possible exception of the citizens still living who came up during the Depression and World War II, as a general propostion, our citizens are not accustomed to extreme sacrifice. Fortunately, the President has been rather sober about his expectations for the near term. We doubt that the citizens will be patient for very long.

  8. Thanks Vikki:

    We were sitting here trying to think of other situations in life where on the first day on the job, people are already questioning your fitness, and suggesting that you will not be successful. Isn't that the essence of prejudice, prejudging? (In this instance, we are not talking about race.)

    Additionally, what are his detractors so concerned about? Are they that concerned that one man can so detrimentally affect a nation in 4 years? Apparently they are.

    What's interesting about the affection amongst the First Family Members is that it seems to just flow, and have a natural rhythm to it.

    We couldn't make out the end of your comment. Perhaps there was a malfunction. Thanks.

  9. Douglas: I beg to differ with you on the extent of personal connection which a typical politician makes while moving amongst a crowd. During the 1970s and 1980s, I was rather involved in U.S. Senate campaigns and a number of campaigns for Governor of California. Additionally, I had a number of friends who ran for local office.

    One of the more disillusioning aspects of political campaigns is that when you're in a crowd, like the one about which I was speaking, the candidate is constantly glancing from person to person trying to maximize the number of hands shaken. It's a numbers game. And it's pretty disgusting. It is difficult to get one single second of connection. It's not practical.

    Sure, there are lots of smiles and grins, but very little in the way of connection is going on. The canned phrases are all trite, and rarely applicable to the individual to whom they are directed. It's rather crass. One of my politician friends confided in me after the limit of his term that he was glad to be out of politics. He described it as a distasteful business, and the crowd dynamic was one thing that he particularly hated. It’s also what led me to disassociate myself from further political activity, unless a really close friend requested my assistance.

    Many have commented that Bill Clinton was an exception to this rule. In my humble opinion, the Obamas beat the master. Clinton was slick. I get the sense that the Obamas are just regular people. I may be wrong.

    Now this is very different than standing on a podium or before a camera and delivering a message. That’s relatively easier for anyone who can read. And yet, to convey an attitude of sincerity requires something more. Reagan, Kennedy, and FDR were masters at that. I recently watched some old film footage of Kennedy before the White House Press Corps, and he seemed so "comfortable," even though he was exhausted and experiencing extreme back pain, frequently while sedated. (Hitler’s private doctor injected him with numerous dangerous prescription cocktails during the day to ensure that he appeared robust and energetic before the crowds.)

    Quite frankly, I believe that the outgoing president would have fared far better, and would have been far more popular, in spite of his policies and performance, if he had simply appeared to be more confident and at ease before the public. He frequently looked as though he was uncomfortable, and trying too hard.

    During his last few press conferences, he looked like he had taken a physical and emotional beating. As any athlete will tell you, you can't look like that or you will get your ass whipped. He actually appeared to be more relaxed and at ease as he was leaving the White House, as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulder. Time and history will probably be kinder to him some years down the road, but he frequently appeared to be on the emotional defensive.

    Another thing, if you're good, really good, you don't have to tell or convince people that you are good. (Neither do your lieutenants.) Additionally, if you are right, you don't have to convince people that you are right. Being on the defensive is never good for a leader.

    A lot of this also applies to Bill Clinton. Once the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, he should have simply stepped down, and moved the muck on. The position was more important than his personal crap. He was not indispensable.

    Another thing - for all the bitching and moaning that we, including this writer, do about politicians, we do have options. We can run for office ourselves. We can start initiatives and recalls. We can also change the Constitution. If we are not sufficiently motivated as a society, then it will not get changed.

    We often reflect on the fact that the legislative branch of this country was not sufficiently motivated until the 1960s, to legally end racial discrimination. Quite simply put, the country didn't want it. If it had, it would have been addressed through the legislative process prior to the 1960s. It really should not have been the Warren court which, in effect, "promulgated" civil rights laws. That was not their responsibility. I'm pretty much a believer in the adage that we deserve what we get. If we want to change it, we do something about it. President Obama decided at some point that he wanted to do something about it.

  10. Excellent post. Thoughtful and insightful. Oddly enough many of the impressions you have gotten of Obama are exactly what cause my, for lack of a better word, fears. He is too perfect, too calm, too uninvolved, too lacking in ego, too lacking in passion, just plain "too" to be real. I looked for and could not find the "human" in him.

    But for all my fears I am so passionately (you see I am too human!:) ) praying for, begging for and cheering for his success. BB

  11. Log, you are eloquent in defense of your opinion.

    But it is, after all, opinion. And it is, in that, a matter of perspective. I, perhaps too often, like to remind myself:

    We see that which we wish to see.
    We hear that which we wish to hear.
    We believe that which we wish to believe.

    We create, in a sense, our own reality as we view the world around us through the filter of our past experiences and our hopes and dreams.

    Obama is who you want him to be. For you. You see from afar what you saw through up close when you were more directly involved in politics.

    I will repeat, the ability to make everyone (or most) in a crowd feel personally touched or seen by the person at the center is a political skill, a talent. We often call it "charisma" or "charm".

    I could say that there was little civil rights legislation prior to Brown v. Board of Education because the country was unaware it was needed. But it wouldn't be exactly true. What would be true is that most people were complacent and unaware of the inequalities in our society. And that those who were aware were more likely to be the victims of it. Human beings, as a society, often need to be "prodded" to make changes. We are naturally conservative (in the basic sense of the word, not the political), unwilling to make changes or even see the need for change unless the need is shown.

    Brown re-started the process of ensuring equality, the process that had begun before the Civil War and was thought settled with it. MLK, Jr reminded the country it was not done yet. The pictures of marches, police with fire houses and dogs, and more prodded the country. And the country responded. Those who had built their political and social power on the foundation that included inequality naturally resisted the changes. The social structures needed changing and that "rocks the boat" so change is tumultuous and, therefore, frightening. Many resisted because of that. But change was inevitable because it became clear that society, as it stood, was unequal. And that process is still under way. Laws only set the parameters for a society, the people have the final power.

  12. Thank you Brenda. It is so interesting that the qualities which I noted are the same ones which make you uncomfortable regarding our new President. I learned something today, as I desire to do every day. We all should wish him success, even if he may not have been our preferred candidate. Thanks much.

  13. Several things:

    We would suggest that folks consider re-reading the light, green column on the right side of our blog, with the semi-permanent text, to gain a better appreciation of what we are trying to do here. We believe that we all need to “step outside of ourselves” with more regularity.

    As a general proposition, the Institute tries to avoid expressing ITS opinion or position.

    When I speak as an individual, I try to disassociate myself from the Institute, and indicate that I alone am responsible for the piece. There are two others who generate our posts, and we frequently edit each other's work.

    Probably 65 % – 80% of the time, at least in connection with our posts for the last 3 or 4 months, we have not expressed our opinion or position on the subjects discussed. (The earlier posts probably reflected more of my personal views, since I just had to that out of my system.)

    The expression of our views is not our goal. (As one of my very good cyber-friends noted, “We are seriously tongue-in-cheek.”) If you ask me directly for my personal view, position, or opinion, I may choose to provide it, or I may not. I probably would not. (I usually send my personal thoughts via direct e-mail, to people who have known me for 20 -40 years, and have better context from which to consider the comment.)

    We go through great efforts to avoid posting our personal views on the blog. It perverts the analytical thought process, which we believe should reign supreme.

    We believe that subjective, personal, and emotional desires and goals get in the way of progress.

    I can provide a plausible and well- founded argument for any position in the universe.

    As a general principle, I feel that folks don't care what I personally think or feel. It's irrelevant. And for that reason, I try to avoid sharing it.

    My life long friends regularly contact me and tell me that something in an article surprised them, and was contrary to what they knew about it. That is most frequently the case.

    I'm purely interested in the discussion, and the purity of the discussion. I do not care where folks end up. Truly.

    I suspect that I am far, far, far, more conservative than most people with whom I come into contact. I don't think that democracy works very well, because people are not responsible enough to really make it work. However, my opinion does not matter, even when it occasionally slips through.

    Finally, if one thinks that objectivity and detachment in the analysis can not be achieved, it will not be achieved. We always strive for mental masturbation.

  14. I would say that being truly objective is close to impossible. I would also say you will know you have achieved it when you are attacked from all sides on your position.

  15. Reggie, Thank you for trying to be kind. My comment makes absolutely no sense whatsoever on this post!! I can just see your readers asking themselves just why the Hell that crazy old bird is even allowed on this site. Anyhow this comment, as convoluted and painful to read as it is, was meant to be placed on the last post. It was a comment on your JFK reference.

    I am dyslexic and therefore write all of my posts and comments on Works where I can "see" and discover the mistakes by changing the font size and style several times. Then I cut and paste. I seem to have done my pasting on the wrong post.

    i am so embarrassed this is one time I can not even laugh at my own mistake as I usually can and do. BB

  16. I believe what is needed is a combination of Obama's plan and the Republican Plan. What we do not need is that mishmash of "pay offs" to various constituents that is the House Stimulus Plan. The old War Horses are still in charge and still haven't gotten the message that the old ways of carrying on the people's business is what got us to this place of economic death throes.

    Now if the Senate can somehow get serious and show some concern for the people and country unlike they did on the $700 billion bail out, then perhaps the government can come up with something. BB

  17. I just saw a piece on CNN Headline News entitled "First Daughters' Advice," featuring a collage of photos and audio made by the Bush daughters to the Obama daughters. It was actually quite touching.

    What struck me was the collection of family pictures showing George W. Bush at an earlier point in time. He looked energetic, personable, comfortable, sharp, engaged, and self-assured. (The audio was recorded by one or more of the daughters, and not their father.) That is not the image which he conveyed while in office.

    I believe that he received an inordinate amount of criticism, much of it unjustified and unnecessary, because he did not carry himself in a manner which made people take him seriously. It appeared as though he wanted to be taken seriously, and even tried too hard. Perhaps if he had relaxed more, and "settled" into the job, he might have conveyed a different image.

    Yes, you're right, we shouldn't make our decisions based on image. However, at the same time, there's no question that people naturally respond to visual factors. It what "visceral" is all about.

  18. an intriguing post.

    I came late to the Obama camp. My oldest daughter kept telling me that I needed to read more and listen to him more. I was not motivated to do that until Sarah Palin showed up. Then I was forced to pay closer attention and my goodness......I liked this guy.

    I agree that he seems self confident enough to shed the criticism (though I think he doesn't underestimate it's power either), I think he does choose people that will help him to achieve the goals he wants and I think he has a deep intellect, which should not be confused with an extensive education even though they often go hand in hand. I think he has the ability to prioritize what he needs to work on and learn as he goes. In addition to that he's polished enough that he can converse with other people who are perhaps more specialized in their fields, and the man has the ability to concentrate and listen to what people are saying to him. Listening and understanding are skills often neglected.

    I have not formed permanent opinions about his policies yet. I will wait and read what the specialists NOT in his cabinet have to say about nominees and appointees.

    thanks for the comment at my blog, I too am amazed at the variety of intrests in the blogging world. I'm going to link to this post....I liked it that much.

  19. Thanks much Holly. Very nicely crafted. None of us should form permanent opinions about his policies at this point early in his administration. We really liked the manner in which you distinguished "deep intellect" from "extensive education."

    Check us out often, do not hesitate to comment, and consider generating a piece yourself as a Guest Author in accordance with our guidelines listed in Post No. 34. Thanks.

  20. Hello,

    Thank You for the comment you left, though personaly I think love is always worth fighting for if it is true and real.


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