By Drew Westin, New York Times, August 10, 2011
Drew Westin is a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”
When he wants to be, the president (Barack Obama) is a brilliant and moving speaker, but his stories virtually always lack one element: the villain who caused the problem, who is always left out, described in impersonal terms, or described in passive voice, as if the cause of others’ misery has no agency and hence no culpability. Whether that reflects his aversion to conflict, an aversion to conflict with potential campaign donors that today cripples both parties’ ability to govern and threatens our democracy, or both, is unclear.
Searching for a diagnosis and an answer to the question, "What happened to Barack Obama?" Drew Westin cites a number of possible explanations: the desire for re-election as a centrist, the hi-jacking of the government by the TeaParty, the corruption of all Washington politicians, and the mutually exclusive conundrum that he ran as both a reformer and a unity candidate who would bring Washington back from the bring of red-vs-blue brinkmanship.
However, it is Obama's refusal to find the villain, name the villain and merely cloud the villain in passive voice terms that he finally focuses on. And, to this observer, that is precisely the quality in President Obama that is most attractive, most mature, most liberating and most visionary. It is as easy as taking candy from a baby to point out the villain, to name the villain and to construct a "straw-man" of the villain that one can then attack and destroy. For the Republicans, Obama himself is the villain, and they have determined that he will be a one-term president.
He is an interloper president, not born in the United States, a communist, a socialist, a free-spending, high-taxing liberal in the middle of a debt and deficit crisis....and underlying all of these epithets, without having to utter the words, he is "black"....the first black president of the racially divided country.
And through it all, he continues to work hard to find ways to bring extremely divided government to the table, to the compromise that the country so desperately needs, to the solutions that will bring the U.S. out of this deep hole of fiscal, social and especially political emptiness.
If his refusal to "shoot the villain" in his many speeches, especially through the use of the "ad hominum" argument that is so popular a device of the "right," turns out to be his own "Waterloo" then the American people will have lost one of their most intelligent and most mature and most moderate and most balanced president of the last half century. He took out bin Laden, whom he knew was the villain; he agreed to support the NATO strike against Libya; he brought about the first reform of health care in half a century, after many other presidents had failed; he faced the most threatening set of factors on Wall Street since the Great Depression and has helped navigate the country through what could have been much worse turbulence; he fought for a debt ceiling hike that would last throughout his first term, so it would not have to be re-litigated just prior to the election; he consistently brings a calm, steady and balanced presence to his many public appearances and keeps his angry outbursts for private consumption.
He has successfully incarnated the most professional, most mature and most psychologically balanced potential of the office of president in recent memory, during the most turbulent political, economic, military and geopolitical tornadoes of what could be called a perfect storm...and because he does not carry the proverbial "Smith and Wesson" that insures so many cowboy trucks in the nation, while a rack of rifles hangs in the window of the cabs of those trucks, and because he is not throwing up political opponents as clay ducks for shooting practice, and because he does not engage in the gutter-politics of the kind the Republicans have got their PhD in, he is faulted for not continuing to tell and to re-tell the American myth of violent attack against the enemy.
This is the evolved male resident of the White House that the macho male neither understands nor respects, and that obviously includes Drew Westin, a professor of psychology who ought to "get it" when he attemps to diagnose an obviously visionary president who is not telling bedtime stories to children voters.
It is time for the U.S. electorate to grow up, to shed the hard power and to begin to listen to what the president is NOT saying....he is saying that these complex problems and issues require a different approach, a creative, collaborative approach that brings all voices to the table so that even the "crazies" are not excluded, in his bold and fresh attempt to be inclusive, something the Republicans reject completely.
After all, they have all the answers, and they have all the political testosterone the country will need for the next millenium....and look where the excess testosterone has got us, after a decade of Bush's big-T.