The President We Deserve?

Will Americans choose a difference course for the country this election season?

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine
Photo via FrontPage Magazine

In 1920 H.L Mencken wrote prophetically, “As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and complete narcissistic moron.”
Like the long tradition of antidemocrats from Plato to Founding Father Fisher Ames, Mencken believed that a democratic leader would reflect the self-interested aims and passions of the necessarily mediocre mass of voters. The disaster of Barack Obama’s administration invites reflection on the truth of this proposition.

Obama’s narcissistic self-regard by now is obvious to all but the most besotted of tingle-down-my-leg, smartest-president-ever, trousers-crease-bedazzled Obamaboppies, as Mark Steyn calls them. Obama’s favorite words are “I,” “me,” and “my,” except of course when he’s dodging responsibility for his failures, as he did recently when he blamed his intelligence agencies for his own neglect of the growing threat from Islamic State in northern Iraq. He’s still blaming George W. Bush for many other failures, most recently when he blamed him for the lack of a status of forces agreement with Iraq––something he really didn’t want so he could brag, as he did in 2011, “The tide of war is receding. Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan . . . Our troops are finally coming home.” A year later he made this political calculation explicit when he said of the SOF agreement during the foreign policy presidential debate, “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down.”
Dodging accountability and refusing to confess one’s mistakes are classic signs of the egomaniac. So too is seeking out audiences that uncritically accept one’s own estimation of personal greatness. That’s why the president prefers fund-raisers to governing. It’s not just about garnering money for his party; it’s also about bathing in the waves of adulation from the carefully selected audience of fans. That’s certainly more gratifying than sitting through the Presidential Daily Briefings, 56% of which he missed in his first term, and 62% in his second. George W. Bush, in comparison, almost never missed the PDB.
And when someone does get by the gatekeepers and asks an even slightly challenging question, Obama gets a bit snappish, as those convinced of their own brilliance are wont to do. For example, when asked at a recent town-hall gathering about double-digit rate-increases for health care, he sniffed, “The question is whether you guys are shopping effectively enough.” It’s your fault, not mine. So too when his handlers can’t control the questions, as in presidential debates. There he relies on juvenile snarkiness to defend his amour propre. Remember when he responded to Mitt Romney’s warning about Russia, which recent events have proven prescient? “The 80s called, they want their foreign policy back,” he jeered with the air of a junior-high witling.
Overestimating one’s abilities, however, is the most obvious indication of crippling self-regard. Way back in 2008 Obama sent us a very clear signal of what would make him a dangerous president: “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” Such a preposterous statement, proven false by the events of the last 6 years, points us to the reasons for those failures––his unwillingness to listen to advice from anyone other than his servile courtiers. As former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta writes in his new book, Obama and his spaniel advisors refused to listen to Panetta and military commanders about the importance of leaving a residual force in Iraq. Instead, the administration gave up on securing an agreement it didn’t want in the first place, choosing the self-flattering political narrative about “ending the war” over the long-term strategic dangers of walking away from the still fragile political order in Baghdad.
But why should Obama question himself, when his closest and most trusted advisor, Valerie Jarrett, has gone on record with astonishing claims about the president’s brilliance? The following statement from 2010 is one of the most embarrassing displays of toadying I know of outside a Versailles fop or a Hollywood press agent:

I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is . . . He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually . . . So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy . . . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.

We know now that this whole encomium is false in every detail––except for the claim that Obama “knows” that all Jarrett’s claims are true. In a position as powerful as the presidency of the world’s greatest economic and military power, such self-delusion is lethal.
Obama’s claim to his own brilliance, reinforced by enablers like Jarrett, brings us to the issue of intelligence. With his typical hyperbolic sarcasm, Mencken uses the word “moron.” But the problem with Obama is not his level of intelligence, which I suspect is above average. Rather, Obama’s mind has never been properly trained. Like physical strength, intellectual development needs resistance. The novice needs to be regularly scolded that his callow opinions and interpretations are badly argued or uninformed, and then sent off to improve them. Does anyone think that an affirmative action admit like Obama was ever subjected to such ego-wounding criticism? I’ve been in the university for 40 years, and I’ve seen repeatedly the anxious cossetting, inflation of ability, tender solicitude for feelings, and unwillingness to apply rigorous standards when it comes to minority students, what George Bush has called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” All Obama has had to do is show up, and white people have done the rest.

Back in 2008 we had an example of this dynamic when esteemed presidential historian Michael Beschloss––a Harvard-trained holder of numerous prestigious fellowships and visiting scholar positions––claimed Obama had the highest I.Q. of any president ever, without having a clue about what his I.Q. actually is. For the rest of us, there is scant evidence of this brilliance. No college transcripts, no LSAT scores, no peer-reviewed articles, nothing other than a couple of books of uncertain authorship.
We do have, however, Obama’s astonishing blunders like “there are 57 states; Canada has a president; ‘Austrian’ is a language; America is ‘20 centuries’ old; Arabic is spoken in Afghanistan. He’s called the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) the Maldives, and declared it would be ‘unprecedented’ for the Supreme Court to invalidate a law passed by Congress,” as Jack Kelly has written. And let’s not forget the “intercontinental railroad” and the reference in the 2009 Cairo speech to Muslims in 15th century Córdoba decades after they had been driven away. Such mistakes bespeak not a stupid mind, but a lazy and untrained one completely lacking in Socratic self-awareness of how much it doesn’t know but only thinks it knows.
Obama will be history in 2 years, so the real question is whether Mencken was right when he said that such a president reflects the “inner soul” of a democratic people. Has narcissistic self-regard become a defining characteristic of the American people, as Christopher Lasch argued in his 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism? Is the electorate dominated by what Rush Limbaugh calls the “low-information voter,” as Ilya Somin documents inDemocracy and Political Ignorance, published last year? In short, is the antidemocratic charge that “Among the common people [is] the greatest ignorance,” as the Athenian called the Old Oligarch wrote around 450 B.C., really true?
The next 2 elections may give us an answer to that question. Perhaps the residual common sense of Americans, once awakened by increasing crises at home and abroad, will reassert itself, and prove Abe Lincoln correct: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Let’s hope the future proves Lincoln a better prophet than Mencken.

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20 thoughts on “The President We Deserve?”

  1. Boy Victor really unloaded with those statements about affirmative action treatment. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in college. Does a professor really think in grading, that guy/gal is affirmative action, I’m going to lower the bar? I think the American electorate has been the best in the world. It has had the best understanding of economics, the least willingness to steal from those doing better than they, and had the best judgement about when to engage in foreign entanglements. But with 50% of the people in the country now receiving some payment from the government at least once a year, maybe we’ve reached some kind of tipping point. If you look at it, things tend to switch back and forth every 8 years or so, so this next presidential election will be telling.

  2. Obama could have the highest IQ of anybody to hold the Presidency, but programmers have a saying “garbage in, garbage out”.

  3. I think that the “soft bigotry of low expectations” quote should be attributed to Pat Moynihan. But otherwise you’re absolutely right!

  4. I worry that personality cults and ignorance are addictive. I worry that mediocrity is the new brilliance and our next President could just as easily be another empty headed demagogue who tells people who to hate and who to worship.

  5. A. Voter American

    Personally, I do not believe that Obama has ever “won” an election. Voter fraud was so rampant during the last two elections it’s impossible to say–but, if that is what they must resort to in order to win, so be it. Lady Obama is the most outrageously expensive person ever to occupy the White House–she has lavished herself by spending more (on herself and her parties) than all other first ladies combined–including Jackie Kennedy. Finally, Obama is incapable of telling the American people the truth. He has convinced all non-English speaking people that being enslaved by the US Gov’t is a good thing—until it comes time to pay the bill, then we become just like any other 3rd world country.

  6. I think the next two elections will show we have passed over to a majority of americans who believe in moral relativism and technology that means more to them than what its going to take to save our Country. Some states will continue to fight the federal leviathan and this will be the last stand. Not sure what the outcome will be. Violence or just giving in to idea of redistribution and trying to keep as much as you can of what you earn.

  7. Leadership is not his interest.
    He has had to forego fund raising the past two days and been shamed into staying in the White House to appear to be concerned about the CDC and the handling of Ebola…my, my, my, how laid back and just sayin words, just saying words…maybe a czar…maybe quarantine…maybe flight cancellations…of course, only if the experts tell me so…cause he won’t be at fault if there’s a problem.

  8. The weakening of the USA by it’s elected officials and the most important elections the USA will ever hold. The conditions that spawned WW2 are playing out again on the world stage—the Republicans need power to restore AND BUILD the military to counter a Russian/Chinese/iran axis with a questionable Turkey. And this from a United States that cannot even protect its own borders. China is impolding from within. The Western powers and Saudi Arabia are putting the screws to Russia and Iran. Our borders in the United States and Europe are open to mass terrorist events, syncronized. The USA and Europe weakened from within from weak political leadership and potential terroism —- The prize for the Russian/Chinese/Iran and maybe Turkey Axis — is the Middle East, with the bulk of the world’s remaining energy reserves. The only hope is that the people in these dictatorship’s can rise up and overthrow, but history points to WW3. The difference now being that our foes have the resources, population and geography to succeed,(but will their people be led down that path)?? I DO NOT WANT THIS TO BE POSTED ON YOUR WEBSITE, but it’s something to keep an eye on as developments unfold and maybe keep raising awareness of the dangers our failed political leadership is exposing the ENTIRE WORLD to

  9. At the presidential level of the American political system, it too often seems to happen that, unlike milk containing cream, what rises to the top too often resembles what rises in a toilet bowl.

  10. Proudly Unaffiliated

    Yes, we already know Obama is a self-absorbed, incompetent, ideological d-bag.
    However, elections do not change the American people and elections are not barometers of the American people. The people, in aggregate, can’t change fast enough to ascribe anything at all to them as a result of one election cycle.
    Yes, the people change over a period of decades, generation to generation to be sure, and in some cases are influenced by government policies. But election to election every 2 years, no way Jose.
    This is clearly well understood by the left as they are constantly tricking or ramming their progressive policies down the throat of an unreceptive people, often using scare tactics or doing such in times of crisis and need. So they know they can ratchet their agenda in over time and have been very successful over the last 100 years or so. They have done this in spite of many electoral losses. Obama will be one of the most loved by the left precisely because he never compromised at all. Obamaism will one day be rebuked by most, they know that, but they don’t care. Another few clicks achieved on the progressive ratchet, mission accomplished.
    Conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, etc. could look at the details of how the left has been successful, including the details of just how leftists are winning enough elections to get enough power to impose their agenda, and fight full force and with full brain power applied to stop AND REVERSE IT USING ALL MEANS POSSIBLE. So far, if we use this as a metric, our loyal opposition looks about as feckless and confused — or perhaps co-opted — as possible, with a few bright spots, thankfully.
    But still, a vote to help derail or slow Obama is the way to go. Plus, watching the loser-in-chief have to outright break the constitution to do anything he wants will have entertainment value, with more columns like this forthcoming.

  11. Another great article, however, to look at it another way, I believe the title could read “You Get What You Pay For, Even In The Oval Office.” It is my contention that America will continue to elect misguided and ill-equipped politicians because that’s the “salary” we’re offering. For example, a congressman now makes some $172,000 dollars. A healthy salary for…say….a manager of a small, perhaps family owned business with annual sales below 10 million dollars. We’re asking our DC politicians to run a MULT-TRILLION DOLLAR economy as well as handle numerous “other” tasks while living part-time in two different states. I know, I know…..we all know, in fact, that outside influences (big oil, big labor, etc) funnel monies through PAC’s and other arteries to the elected. And this is what has to be stopped. All “outside” money becomes illegal, PERIOD. Next, offer the right salary. Start at 3-5 million and for those of you who say “that’s too much,” I say get real. Wouldn’t you rather pay a fair wage to someone who does a good job than to “feel good” about underpaying a completely incompetent second-rate shyster? At least now WE would be paying them and THEY would be working for US!

  12. It’s not a function of citizens electing narcissists but, rather, citizens voting themselves lollipops from the US Gov’t, courtesy of future taxpayers, most of whom are not yet born. The anti-democratic leanings of the founding fathers, Menken, et. al, were entirely correct, but attributing that to stupidity is missing the fundamental point. That Obama is a boob is merely co-incidental. The tax eaters out number the tax payers. Game over. To quote Ann Coulter, the Democrats could run a head of lettuce and win.

  13. Mr. Thornton,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this article, but when I researched the Mencken quote I was disappointed to discover that you misquoted that great man. Mencken did not utter or pen the words “fool and complete narcissistic” in his prediction. As much as I loathe BHO, I am disappointed that you chose to alter the quote with epithets that pander to the current conservative ethos.

  14. Take heart. People are talking about our Constitution again….people are angry and outraged. The tide of our Republic is rising faster by day!

  15. We keep talking about the ideal president — one who understands the average American, one how IS and average American, but then we say such a person could never be elected. Now is the time! In the Internet age with social media and things like the ALS challenge, we should be able to accomplish this without all the money and tricks candidates have been forced to do.
    Write-in Roderick 2016

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