Obama’s Unintentional Rorschach Test

There’s something rather curious that I’ve noticed among many liberals during this primary season, myself most likely included.  When it comes to those who have picked a horse for this race, we folks who are so quick and proud to point out our appreciation of nuance have had proven to be very quick to suddenly become unnuanced at a moment’s notice if we’re talking about the right (or more aptly put, wrong) candidate.

For instance, Open Left’s Matt Stoller has proven time and again that he has no desire to even attempt to find nuance when it comes to Barack Obama, no attempt to try and contemplate a more complex view than “Obama’s not a partisan warrior… BAD!!”  The Obama campaign for him is a slight upon progressivism in its mere existence, and if you support Obama, you obviously must be hoping for a conservative Republican regime for the foreseeable future.

Despite Stoller’s history, reading his headline “Obama’s Admiration of Ronald Reagan”about had me ready to do something I haven’t done in a while, and that was criticize Barack Obama (something I will still do later on, but not quite as severely as I was getting ready to).  But then I checked it out, and got the feeling that Stoller was yet again lapsing into another fit of Obama Derangement Syndrome (as a sufferer of both Bush Derangement Syndrome and Hillary Derangement Syndrome, I know the symptoms, I can damn near diagnose on sight).

Here’s the clip:

Now, again, this requires a skill that should have been taught back in grade school; active listening. As opposed to hearing what you want to hear, (“Oh Reagan, he was so great, I love him so much and have posters of him up on my bedroom walls. There has never been a better president ever ever ever”), you, wait for it, listen to what the speaker is saying, and digest that information.

Here’s what I’m talking about. What I get from the clip above is not Obama admiring Reagan’s policies. In fact, I don’t hear him admiring the late president at all. What I do hear is a judgement based upon Reagans political accomplishments which were largely true, and he even attributes much of it to the state of things at that time. He is basically saying that what Reagan did was accurately guaged the mood of the country, and was able to change the country’s trajectory. And Reagan did do that.

Obama never makes a judgement on whether he thought Reagan moved us in the right direction or the wrong direction, he was simply commenting on the fact that the country did change direction. And you know what? That’s what happened. It doesn’t take a genius political scientist to understand that the rise of conservatism in the 80’s happened as a backlash of rampant liberalism in the sixties and seventies.

In a way, you kind of have to look at public opinion sort of like a rubber band attached to a fixed point. The fixed point represents the dead center, and should the rubber band be allowed to languish there, limp and flacid, no one gets excited, things don’t get done, etc. But the rubberband hardly ever rests against that dead center margin. Instead it gets pulled from one side to another, and funnily enough, the more you pull to one side, the further and faster you can expect it to travel to the other side when tension is released.

The sixties and seventies acted as a backlash against conservative nuclear family ideals and warmongering, then in the eighties you had the conservative backlash against the hippies, then in the nineties you had a more progressive backlash against the eighties, and now we’re still in the middle of a conservative backlash against the Clinton years and political correctness.

Now, my analogy could use some work, I’m sure, but the salient points are all there. What Obama was commenting upon was Reagans ability to notice that the tension pent up from the sixties and seventies was at a breaking point, and was adept at capitalizing upon that.

Much like how perhaps what Obama is seeing is the rubber band is at maximum tension regarding bitter partisanship, and the country is ready for it to swing the other way.

That’s about it.

But trumping both myself and Stoller comes the Carpetbagger report which I think nails this one on the head (and pretty much catches both me and Matt red handed).

My hunch is the comments are likely to be yet another in a series of Rorschach tests. Obama critics will perceive these comments as being complimentary of Reagan — hardly a good idea during a Democratic primary — and lending credence to conservative frames, such as his reference to “the excesses of the 60s and the 70s.”

Obama fans will hear/see the same comments, and come to a different conclusion — that Obama was merely characterizing this election as one in which the country is ready for a fundamental change in the way Washington works (or doesn’t), as voters were in 1960 and 1980. As Greg Sargent noted, “In this context, Obama is presenting himself as a potentially transformational figure in opposition to Hillary, who, Obama has been arguing, is unequipped to tap into the public’s mood due to her coming of age in the sixties and her involvement in the political battles of the 1990s.”

Okay, I’m probably guilty as charged… But so is Matt!!!

But to be fair, I will admit that Obama did screw up a bit. He should have known that he’s still got a long way to go before the end of the Democratic Primary, and Hillary is still the frontrunner. It’s not a good idea to piss off Democrats, and while Bill Clinton might be making a fool of himself whilst on the stump for his wife, he still probably rates higher than Reagan among us. So, Obama could have been a little more clear that he wasn’t endorsing Reagan’s policies, and he would have been well advised to not say Reagan was better than Clinton at anything except maybe being a bad president.

One Response to “Obama’s Unintentional Rorschach Test”

  1. slag says:

    If this weren’t one in a series, Obama could probably get away with it more easily. But when he keeps using these rightwing frames over and over again, he’s making it clear that he doesn’t need the progressives in the race. And when he’s doing this in the PRIMARY, what’s he going to be like in the general?

    Sorry. Rhetoric has significance (which these guys well know). Obama has avoided a lot of serious scrutiny so far, but eventually, he’s going to get it. What then? Who’s he going to toss under the bus next?

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