Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Is Barack Obama Sane?

No, not rhetorical.  Here's British political theorist John Gray:

It’s hard to know what is going to happen now in US politics. What is significant about Obama, whatever his failures, is his palpable sanity. He is an immensely sane leader. 
Well now, that one ought to hold us for a while, shouldn't it?   Let's skip the all-night adolescent bull session and assume that we do have some working notion of what it means to be "sane:"  a modest reflectiveness, an awareness that facts are stubborn things, a recognition (however reluctant) that the voices inside your head are not God talking but just voices inside your head.  The Barack of, say Dreams of My Father (unless you want to argue that it is Bill Ayers who is really sane).  The Barack of the Nobel Prize acceptance, the Cairo speech--indeed, the Barack of perhaps a dozen speeches over the course of a not-very-long career.  I won't go do far as to say he is Lincoln (he is not) but aside from Lincoln, how many political leaders--ever--can deliver even one speech that seems focused, clear-eyed, at home in the world?

So what shall we make of the other Obama, the one who has left his most fervent supporters so chastened and disabused--the Obama of targeted assassinations, the Obama who stands in slack-jawed admiration of the Wall Street Money Trust, the  Obama who lets himself be the plaything of Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor?    I'd say there's a problem here: I count myself as a disappointed supporter, if never exactly "fervent."  Disappointed, yes, but does the charge sheet support a finding of "insane?"   I shouldn't think so.  Wretchedly misguided some times, sure.  Wrongheaded, check.  Naive, oboyoboy.    But "wrongheaded=insane"--apoplectic as I may get some days, I'd say that's setting the bar a bit high.

And yet, and yet.   There is that gnawing annoyance about targeted assassinations, the comfortable (it seems) assurance that one's own life-and-death judgment is reliable, that one can, indeed, be the judge of one's own case.  Arrogance at least.  Blind megalomania?  Perhaps there is a subtle boundary,

But speaking of arrogance, perhaps we can broaden the inquiry.  Recall we are dealing here with a man who, five years ago, was a not-yet-one-term senator, whose most noteworthy prior achievement was to edit the Harvard Law Review.  We thought it was a bit of a stretch to think he might become President; what did he think?  What kind of self-assurance--how far outside the bounds of ordinary realism--to think you can scale that mountain from this tiny molehill.  I can't think of another example of ambitious overstretch in the history of American politics.  Well, with perhaps one exception: again, Abraham Lincoln.  And to confuse oneself with Abraham Lincoln--now, that does come close to insane.

Optional extra credit: Gray continues: 
And it’s an odd question to ask, but I wonder if sanity is a political advantage or disadvantage in these circumstances in America?
 This odd question is left as an exercise to the reader.   


1 comment:

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

To become President of the United States, one must be insanely ambitious and self-confident. I'll make a partial exception for fortunate sons.

Barack Obama may be the sanest possible President. That being said, he's still crazy as a bedbug.