One of the themes in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (of many) concerns the ability of great leaders to control the vicissitudes of fortune. In this manner, Napoleon is seen as not, as so many regarded him at the time, as a master of his fate and controller of his and many other’s destinies. But instead he was just the highest chip in the froth. That it was not his will that drove France to Empire and thereby pushing he and they willy nilly to disaster in the Russian snows (giving us Mr Minard’s completely amazing graph as well). Now Lev Tolstoy may have offered that a Higher Power determined the course of history. Alternatively in this modern era, one might instead propose that aggregate behaviour of the crowds might be the driving force.
Mr Obama is the head of our state. But he is likely less in control of events than we pretend. Now it is true that like, Mr Kerry, Mr Obama has been striving for the Presidency much of his adult life. While I find this personally distasteful ambition, I cannot project my personal animosity for the seeking for power on others. There may actually be admirable aspects to ambition even if they are a far cry from my personal makeup.
Joe Carter today at First Thoughts offers the following on Mr Obama (and like the last time discussed an essay of Mr Carter’s … this isn’t the main thrust of his post):
I have a confession to make: I don’t dislike Barack Obama.
Oh sure, I dislike his policies and wish he wasn’t the most powerful leader on the planet. I also believe that some of the views he holds are—there’s no other way to put it—evil. Nevertheless, he appears to be a decent guy (at least compared to some of our creepier past presidents like JFK and Richard Nixon).
Because his is such a relatively normal chap, I suspect he’s somewhat appalled by the messianic adoration of his most eager supporters. Not enough to not exploit it and use if to his advantage, of course. After all, cults of personality can certainly be useful—particularly when you’re the personality. Still, he must cringe when his supporters are carried away in their POTUS-love.
Back when I was in college, not as I tell my kids when the dinosaurs roamed and we all had to walk 10 miles a day to and from school uphill both ways, there was a popular Chicago political columnist Mike Royko. While he mostly wrote quite acerbically about Chicago politics once had a few words to say about whether he would welcome the chance to meet the President (then Reagan). He offered that he would not. After all, if he did get a chance to meet him, he would almost certainly like him, and likely like him a lot. And that this would interfere with his job, which was to intelligently provide criticism of Mr Reagan (and other politicians). He thought keeping these men at an arms distance was necessary for him to do his job well. If, heaven forbid, I was given an opportunity to meet the President (or a future one more in tune with my political and personal beliefs), I would refuse citing this reason given by Mr Royko.
I would concur with Mr Carter on his strongly stated opinion on many of Mr Obama’s policy positions. On the other hand, I have never watched an interview with Mr Obama nor have I ever listened to his speeches nor read either of his two (!) autobiographies. It might be added that this might also be said of the prior four Presidents as well. In fact I have not listened to a (real) political speech in three decades, and the few times when occasional channel surfing brought me in contact with one, I have to say, political speechifying in the modern era is execrable. Every three sentences is punctuated by a stultifying talk, pause, applause, pause (repeat until you flee) pattern. While I very much enjoyed hearing James Earl Jones read the Gettysburg address and found the other very moving rhetoric on big or small screen to be Gerard Depardieu in Wadja’s Danton giving a speech at his trial before the tribunal.
But to get back on message, the point is that Mr Carter may be only half right. Mr Obama might not even personally hold or believe half of the “evil views” that his policy and speeches promulgate. His messages are so plastic that it might be that Mr Obama in part shares Lev Tolstoy’s view of history with one small addendum. If the main view of history is that the person in the seat of power has no control but is just, like the rest of mankind, a pawn in the grips of greater forces. This might be modified by the viewpoint that once in a while a person, or that “highest chip in the froth” might only rarely get put dip their oar in the water and push the mass in a direction of their choosing. This might explain why a person who does indeed hold to that view of history, might do two of the things that it seems Mr Obama is willing to do readily. The first is to deny and “throw under the bus” principles and people he strongly affirmed days or weeks earlier for the sake of expedience. After all, the “chip” has to stay at the “top of the wave” if it is to have influence at that occasional opportunity. The second is to seek that position at the top of the froth in the first place.
All this might boil down to the question of “how or on what does Mr Obama” think on a matter or topic is likely far less relevant than we imagine. How the gestalt of the various inner circle White House social networks “think” and act might be more relevant. Thinking of the agent/actor at the head of our state as a gestalt of a social network might be more fruitful than thinking of it as a man.