Monday, February 23, 2009

Obama As Dr. Feelgood

ShrinkWrapped brought to my attention an unusual bit of nonsense by Jonathan Alter in Newsweak, in which Alter touts President Obama as 'America's new shrink" :

Chin up, everyone. This president is well poised to bring us back from the brink.

Inside the White House, the central tension so far is between speed and thought. Rahm Emanuel coauthored a book in 2006 that divided Washington into hacks and wonks. The hacks want speed—get something done ASAP. They figure any problems can be fixed later. The wonks (who recently showed up to a White House meeting wearing beanies after Obama dubbed them "propeller heads") want policy implications carefully weighed from the outset.

Confidence depends on the right balance between the two camps. If the wonks keep the hacks from moving quickly, political victories (and renewed confidence) will be delayed. But if hasty action leads to sloppy, half-baked solutions (as in the initial Geithner bank-bailout plan), confidence will erode.

Witness the speed with which the recovery package was pushed through by Obama aides who had just found out where the bathrooms were located. This raises the odds that some of the money will be spent poorly. We'll know soon if the White House's special auditor teams and new crowd sourced accountability system (run through can really work, and if Obama will be praised for identifying waste in his program, or crucified for it.

As Shrinks points out, this is akin to the quickie pop psychology of Dr. Phil or Oprah:

Talk (thought) and action are decoupled. We need to trust him as he tells us how to behave without offering us any chance to look within the details of the package we are supposed to embrace. Many people who are in trouble are eager to surrender their autonomy and be bailed out. For them, Obama may well be an adequate therapist. However, for the most productive members of society, people who did not succeed in life by surrendering their autonomy to others, such "therapy" is more than a little insulting.

Of course, its not 'therapy' so much as it is working the machine and appealing to the lowest common denominator.

In another part of his article, Alter compares Obama to Professor Howard Hill in "The Music Man". Actually,the fictional evangelist Elmer Gantry (as portrayed in Sinclair Lewis' novel of the same name, not the movie) is a much more apt comparison. Howard Hill, after all, gave the rubes something tangible for their money, however overhyped and overpriced.

Gantry simply used people's faith to manipulate them for his own aggrandizement and profit.


Anonymous said...

What a bizarre coincidence that you mentioned Sinclair Lewis. I re-read my old copy of Arrowsmith less than a month ago & have recently re-read Babbit at the Gutenberg web site. I had thought that no-one else recalled the author !

Freedom Fighter said...

Hello Anonymous 12:37AM, and welcome to Joshua's Army.

Read "Elmer Gantry" if you can and I think you'll see the similarities with Obama immediately.


Anonymous said...

You know, I just can't stand looking at his photos. Much less listening to are we all going to make it through the next four years?? Dear Lord, help us one and all.