Obama's 'idiot' defense
By Jonah Goldberg
Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Although there's still a great deal to be learned about the scandals and controversies swirling around the White House, the nature of President Obama's bind is becoming clear. The best defenses of his administration require undermining the rationale for his presidency.
“We're portrayed by Republicans as either lying or being idiots. It's actually closer to us being idiots.” So far, this is the administration's best defense.
Well-intentioned human error rarely gets the credit it deserves. People want to connect dots, but that's possible only when you assume that all events were deliberately orchestrated by human will. This is the delusion at the heart of all conspiracy theories.
Behind all such delusions is the assumption that government officials we don't like are omnicompetent and entirely malevolent. The truth is closer to the opposite. They mean well but can't do very much very well.
This brings us to the flip side of the conspiracy theory — call it the redeemer fantasy: If only we had the right kind of government with the right kind of leaders, there'd be nothing we couldn't do.
It's been a while since we had a self-styled redeemer president. John F. Kennedy dabbled in the myth that experts could solve all of our problems. But you really have to go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson to find a president who pushed the salvific powers of politics as much as Barack Obama.
His presidency has been grounded in the fantasy that there's “nothing we can't do” through government action. For Obama, the only things separating America from redemption are politics, specifically obstruction from unhinged Republicans and others clinging to outdated motives. Opposition to gun control is irrational because the “government is us.” Reject warnings “that tyranny is always lurking,” he told the graduating class at Ohio State, because a self-governing people cannot tyrannize themselves.
But, suddenly, when the administration finds itself ensnared by errors of its own making, the curtain is drawn back on the cult of expertise and the fantasy of statist redemption. When scandal hits the fan, Obama goes from “the government is us” to talking of his own agencies the way a czar might dismiss an injustice in some Siberian backwater. The hubris of omnicompetence gives way to “lighten up, we're idiots.”
Many of his defenders now rush to insist that it's unfair to hold him to too high a standard. He's just a man, just a politician. Well, duh.
Meanwhile, Obama insists that he is outraged. And, if sincere, that's nice. But so what? What the president seems to have never fully understood is that the Founders were smarter than he or that the American people aren't as dumb as he thinks we are. His outrage is beside the point.
A government as vast as it is is destined to abuse its power, particularly in a climate where a savior-president is incessantly delegitimizing dissent (and journalistic scrutiny). Government officials will behave like idiots sometimes, not because they are individually dumb but because a government that takes on too much will make an idiot out of anyone who thinks there's no limit to what it can do. That alone is good reason to fear tyranny. Indeed, it would be idiotic not to.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of “The Tyranny of Clichés,” now on sale in paperback.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- White House flops: Obama knew uncle
- Kovacevic: Keeping faith in Letang is simple
- Emails reveal 2 sides of Western Psych shooter’s relationships
- Schmotzer says he got things done in Baldwin-Whitehall job
- Steelers lineman Adams gets 2nd chance to start
- County takes lead on Monsour demolition
- Ex-employees to split $9,176 in pension mess
- Heyl: Potato rules get pancaked
- Mandela’s long memory left lasting impression on Pitt professor
- Workers injured at facility for youths
- Fleury, Crosby lead Penguins to victory over Sharks at Consol