The No-Drama, No Storyline Obama Tragedy by Robert S. Becker

by Robert S. Becker
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
– September 6, 2010
September 9, 2010

If tragedy occurs when anointed heroes who know better betray their own promise, Barack Obama’s no-drama, no narrative express is about to derail.  Expect no solace from truth-telling jesters populating classical tragedies, au contraire judging by so many lying rogues nowadays, nor anything like comic relief.  Top Democrats will be relieved if they only lose the House.

How swiftly the thrill of victory turns to the agony of defeat.  And we leftists are the “crazies” needing intervention or drug therapy?  If this White House cannot find a gripping narrative to justify its power, then – rest assured – wingnuts in the wings will reprise their perfectly coherent storyline. Brace for new and improved wedge-driven crusades against sham enemies, domestic and foreign.

Retro Bush-Cheneyism, re-sharpened by cruder minds (Beck, Palin, Limbaugh), provides breakthroughs all right, with more emotive, racial sound bites.  So, what can reverse the tectonic shifts under our feet?  Bad guys own a polished delivery system, with clearer story, frames, and pithy proverbs, while dazed Democrats appear mute, void of rousing messages but not delayed, defensive misdirection.   Game, set, and match for this midterm madness.

If not tragic, then what?

Thus, emerging lessons from the Great Obama Disappointment:

1) Any political narrative, however coarse, beats no narrative.
2) No narrative means “wasting” the very crises true leaders leverage to build confidence and broadcast heroic accomplishments.

Worse still, repeatedly blowing big “teaching moments” makes a president appear reactive, a pawn to destiny not its master (re: natural disasters, violent conflicts, industrial, mining or oil spill “accidents,” or big-time economic downturns).  If great events don’t get transformed to show off one’s singular mettle (or veneer, W. after 9/11), then fallen leaders appear swamped by circumstances.  Has Obama not had enough telling at bats?

The term “tragedy” pops up this week after being reminded Mr. Obama knew clearly what defines great leadership, per his 2006 speech: Americans, he declared, “are coming to the realization that something is missing.  They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives.”  Bingo, knowledge is not execution: today’s majority perceives no national purpose, convinced again we’re heading in the wrong direction, thus so many are abandoning Obama as – pick your metaphor – lost in the wilderness, out of his depth, or lurching from crisis to crises – replete with uninspiring, “wait-and-see” missteps in the face of crises.

Specific policies and compromises aside, wasn’t Task One for the post-Bush Democrats amazingly obvious: defend good government, indeed the idea of government, link it hard to prosperity and purpose and celebrate federalism as a national treasure worth repairing?  Rejoin, in short, the great, historical adventure towards a “more perfect union.”   Okay, scratch perfection, but there must be something above Bush-Cheney’s trashing majority rule, the Constitution, and America’s reputation.  Beyond the insane, community-busting tribalism of “never retreat, reload.”  Or politics reduced to merely one Big Lie, all opinion and no knowledge.

Moral Politics, not Pragmatism

George Lakoff must be heard: “All politics is moral,” mistakenly degraded to pragmatism, expediency, or quantity of passed bills, as if midterm triumphs follow gains notched on a stick: “All political leaders say to do what they propose because it is right.   No political leaders say to do what they say because it is wrong.  Morality is behind everything in politics — and progressives and conservatives have different moral systems.”

That means defending overall health care (not insurance reform) as a national moral imperative, not an efficiency, bill-paying exercise.  “Life Panels” for all, would do just fine.  Or linking the future of the earth, plants, and wildlife with human survival, at least humane survival.  I challenge loyalists to establish Obama’s declared, overriding, working “sense of purpose” without which our national mission is left ill-defined.  Explain who Obama really is (beyond the clichés, left and right), what principle or hill is he’s willing to die on, what true risks taken, even the inexplicable blunder of thinking vaunted legislation doesn’t need massive “sell-through,” confusing popular acceptance with Congressional votes?

No wonder the Tea Party, that torrent of mayhem and obstinacy, prospers, no wonder the progressive base is gnashing its teeth, desperate for the leader it thought we helped get elected.  Leadership lives and dies by creating forward motion, that not-so-mystical “narrative arc” reminiscent of all gripping plots, from blockbuster films, novels, hit TV series, religion or re-election campaigns.  Presidential momentum is all about setting admirable destinations, then moving the majority towards the finale.  Wither Obama?

The Medicine Against Nonsense

Even in crass political terms, this White House needs a counter-acting storyline if only to keep the scorched-earth destroyers at bay.  No one disabuses deluded dummies with mere denial: mean-spirited distortions are trumped with “higher truths,” better catchphrases, and engaging prospects.  We’re getting way past “failures to communicate” but the lethal blunder of never establishing the foundational base line of ideas that organizes events, random and not, in a meaningful, thus purposive process.  Increasingly, Obama’s greatest failure goes beyond not repairing Bush-Cheney violations but not framing his presidency to give full value to moves in the right direction, of which there have been some.  Thus, not quickly healing the Constitution is understandable, less so repeatedly favoring the few at the top, not the many below, half of whom actually vote.   No baseline means no map and no compass to measure progress, and so voters are estranged.

Further, full political maps must include the recent past, thus defining one’s starting point.  That makes Obama’s obsession to banish the age of Bush as a bad dream extremely costly denial.  Banning the past precludes knowing where we are, who we are, how we got here, and, most importantly, how to escape.  What drives every good storyline are compelling, informing “back-stories” of all the characters, both the wicked criminals who wounded us and the heroes who at least keep us from even deeper waters, in fact the crashing waterfall ahead.

History mattered when Obama put together his winning personal narrative.  Who can forget that daring, young, racially-mixed, internationalist newcomer, elite education but up from the people as community activist, not yet under big lobbyist thumbs, full of big ideas, high hopes, and politically savvy.  Where is that protagonist, that bold, risk-taking, promising figure with the golden voice?  Candidate Obama kept his eye on HIS prize (hello, we’re here, too), got in the trenches (especially on race), and knew when to raise and when to call an opponent’s bluff.  The two-year falloff of this president’s popularity tracks the fleeting distance from there to here.

Only Stories Measure Progress

Hey, Dim-ocrats, the midterms are not about high-sounding bills passed, cutting spending or combat troops, nor forever repeating “what Obama inherited” – you’re pitching the wrong products to angry centrists.  Inherited obstacles make, not break heroes and the absence of narrative reflects the wrong advisers, like yours who love Wall Street but hate your base.  Mr. President, instead of dumping on liberals, hire a genius screenwriter who knows how to touch people with forceful storylines that win elections.    Karl Rove, even Sarah Palin, get much of this, so it’s not rocket science.  Where is your narrative Shakespeare?

Boy oh boy, will historians ever puzzle out how the cheerleader Bush baby got smarter in the White House (the quick-study front man) while a first-class politician (and perhaps mind) suffered an apparent brain transplant after taking office.  The dumb learned to speak, powered by a wicked yet coherent GOP narrative, while the gifted candidate, with wind at his back, seems dumber.  Listen to any two minutes of last week’s stunningly ineffective “Iraq is over” speech – WTF?

Perhaps there’ll never be an Obama Doctrine, or a return of inauguration fever, but there must be more to good governance than 18 months of Politics as Survival, or Rule by Retrenchment.  If this is Obama’s continued “vision,” we’re headed towards the graveyard of failed presidencies.  This is no Greek tragedy full of inevitability but a missed historic opportunity, the result of human decisions, a president not executing what he eloquently described four years ago.    For any pragmatist, that’s an American tragedy.


“The 15% Solution,” Serialization, 8th Installment: Chapter Seven 2005: The Morality Amendment (31st)

6 thoughts on “The No-Drama, No Storyline Obama Tragedy by Robert S. Becker

  1. No, Wag the Dog tactics are hardly my recommendation. My argument was in fact fairly conventional:

    If this White House cannot find a gripping narrative to justify its power, then – rest assured – wingnuts in the wings will reprise their perfectly coherent storyline. Brace for new and improved wedge-driven crusades against sham enemies, domestic and foreign.

    I think it’s worth pointing out the obvious: no top president succeeded without a compelling narrative, and it is historic (and tragic) that this White House seems oblivious to this fact.

    I was trying to explain why the Dems are failing, despite being nominally more rational than the born-again fringe taking over the GOP. I didn’t intend to solve every problem in the world so Nature Boy will never like mere essays. Otherwise, i cannot perceive challenges to my essay, just ranting (which is okay, I do it, but with a context).

    • I’m not blaming you for false hopes in the democrats, they are indeed the slightly lesser of evils, but doomed. & I fully applaud your passionate plea.

      But we’ve been here before, over & over for decades now. We waste our passions on these pathetic posers.

      Believe me I’d rather save my breath, obviously I’m no expert, but this is absolutely maddening, resistance can’t be futile without a fight!

      We are obligated to lambast these professional enemies of peace & justice, or we simply don’t deserve to live on this false-patriotic patch of land (love it or leave it as they say…)

      But peace & prosperity simply was never meant to be. Our national pastime is not Football nor Frisbee, it’s Kombat and Kreationism.

      I’m hardly a political person nor party strategist nor Democrat. But it’s apparent even to an a-political layperson that the Dems failed any progressive cause decades ago.

      They were proven completely complicit the day Gore & Kerry conceded; traitorous when Lieberless almost slimed his deranged zionist cause into the Whitehouse on the democrat ticket.

      Pelosi sealed their fate forever by refusing to impeach Botch for blatant war-crimes & treason. Thanks to her neither party will now ever be accountable for their international atrocities, the precedent is now forever set (but god forbid someone sucks a cigar in the Oval Office! The thugs will suck all the air out of the room for real).

      The two-party system is apparently a myth, they are one & the same, it’s just a reality show for our bi-annual autumn entertainment, a going through of motions. The game is clearly fixed from the ‘grass roots’ on up.

      Progressives have once again proven that aligning with democrats spells the tragic failure of their just cause.

      Unfortunately third parties only serve to divide & conquer, ever since the corporatists radicalized & politicized the cult of evangelical christians long infesting the hideous heartland.

      Liberalism was an aberration as was activism. Cindy still stands alone.

      The tea-birthers were the last hope to similarly split the warmonger wing, but it’s clear now it was all corporately coopted & staged, and that the plan was to merge & further radicalize the right. Now they are more rabid than ever,.

      Obomba found his fighting words too little too late to save congress, it’s the contract on America all over again, (only now they can’t even spell).

      Obomba did have a compelling message, that was actually all he had, but he was set up to fail before he even took office.

      It wasn’t like Obomba wasn’t trying, & he indeed does listen, & he has, afterall, had a few things on his plate… I’m exhausted just watching him rocket around trying to finally rebut the whithering propaganda of lies (there are reasons to take issue with his platform, but those aren’t it!).

      Ultimately we failed to force him to function and let the debate be hijacked by the summer of the Death Panel. We had all year, but we dropped the ball. Now it’s too little too late.

      I don’t think this can be fixed, it was a bad society to begin with, if these wars didn’t activate the progressives then nothing will.

      All you can do any more is spit phlegm at the idiocracy drooling their disease throughout this deranged nation of miscreants.

      Cheer on Maddow as she slaughters every lie, fighting the good fight while managing to be funny (and while getting stomped by Beck in the ratings, go figure).

      Don’t forget her predecessors, Cindy & Amy who never enjoyed million$ salaries nor a commercially-sponsored corporate anchor-chair.

      Watch this place go down in flames as it deserves & hope that some decade soon the born-agains finally get screwed enough by their own folly that someone besides only far-flung Paulnut goldbuggers take issue with a $Trillion military budget.

      At least then less innocent poor brown people will be massacred by our mercenaries & MOABS, even if peace is still only a product of amerigoon greed.

  2. Is Mr. Becker saying the only way to fend off the freaks is to Wag the Dog? How then can we continue to blame the Botched Bush Doctrine and the idiocy of the electorate on this one besieged junior professor?

    Sure Bomba walked into a botched bank bailout, bought into bad advisors & got bilked by the bogus war on terror like the rest, but he’s hardly the first war-criminal in the presidency.

    Bomba is still first departure from the endless string of slimy connected blueblooded skull & bones geopolitical golf-buddies we’ve ever had. Hardly progress, but a stab at a future fresh start, which is about to be killed for real.

    Bomba’s got no globally-connected industrial fat-cat grandfather nor oily CIA-connected father nor even a family at all.

    All he’s got is his speaking voice which does seem to reflect his ideals which do seem a little different than the prior, & which he seems to be developing on the fly.

    It’s the fault of the progressives for never moving the electorate back to the path of peace & prosperity despite the horrors of the last administrative disaster.

    The limousine liberals running the Left are as fat and lazy with ill-gotten upper-west-side affluence as the golf-playing bohners of the heartland.

    Ultimately the brainless evangelical ‘What’s the Matter with Kansans’ remain a vast voting block of Gerrymandered lemmings (not to insult lemmings) as they have been for decades, while progressives remain dumbfounded, blindsided & disabled as they have all along.

    The religious right is addicted to self-defeating corporate propaganda with mind-boggling rabid ferocity.

    They are unified as only a stadium of tongue-speaking fanatics can be. They’ve been electing self-defeating insanity for decades just as they were programmed to do. Progressives & liberals are considered the lunatic fringe.

    If you talk to the seething sick society of toothless gun-toting maniacs hiding here in Deliverance, they want to KILL obomba, and they can’t even tell you why, they just hate, in unison, & it’s happening all over the heartland. Progressives are powerless & pitiful in the face of this vast pitchfork-wielding hoard.

    Despite the disaster of the Botched decade, Bomba (who was never a progressive to begin with, why is everyone so surprised?) only squeeked in because the ’08 collapse happened a few month earlier than planned.

    But no problem, the sadistic string-pullers are fixing that one just fine, even his ‘base’ now blame the collapse of the mythical middle class on Bomba.

    But it’s not even about voting anymore! This brain-dead hateful hostility seething in amerigoon society is about to lynch the whole republic in the name of blind belief & evangelical corporatist talking points, just to get the bluebloods back in the commander-in-theif throne.

    And now we have the doubling of their dimwitted demonic hoard because the heartland still hates black people!

    It’s a perfect storm of stupidity, a tidal wave of toothless, obese troglodytes. Progressives have been like deer in the headlights for decades ever since they got sucked off the map by raygun’s robertsonites, and now they’re facing the night of the living dead.

    Regardless of which way the small % of idiotic electorate that actually votes slightly swings this season, let’s be realistic about where the blame belongs:

    Activism in this electorate is now ONLY powered by Beckian propaganda implanted by the Corporatist Koch Brothers.

    Politics is swayed to the stupid wing by huge players who pull the strings of the people’s pre-programmed evangelical bogus belief system, soaked in swill of racism and super-charged by this self-made dent in their ill-gotten myth of trickle–down affluence.

    The progressive ‘base’ is pathetic. They failed to dissent the national crimes that got us here so long as their condos & summer homes in the Berkshires were tripling in value.

    Now suddenly their mythological equity is threatened and they’re disappointed in their barely elected college kid? Puleaze…

    Let’s get something entirely clear, it’s not Obomba, nor even Botch, nor any of these powermongering politicians. I was there too for the last 40 years, and it’s perfectly clear what’s been going on:


    They have nobody to blame but themselves, & so be it, they deserve the destruction of their sick society.

    The problem is not politics, it’s ONLY that innocent people are slaughtered abroad for our stupidity and complicity in national crimes.

    If that weren’t happening, it would be a well-earned just-reward for the people of this nation to go down in impoverished flames exactly as they deserve.

    Perhaps then someday they’ll start over with enhanced humility and the True Revolution in Values required to coexist on this planet.

  3. Pingback: Democrats’ Corporate Cocoon by Ralph Nader « Dandelion Salad

  4. This article/blog is indicative of the Dumbcrats, worrying about image and getting re-elected rather than coming up with anything of substance.

    Obama was and is an inexperienced public relations creation. Anyone with half a brain could have seen that,
    and now the alleged “Progressives” are bemoaning the obvious fact they were too blind to see.

    The Tea Baggers, and Repugnacans are certainly no better.

    The one good thing that may come from the failed Obama administration is that the voting public may finally realize it is not the man they elect that is wrong, but the broken and almost totally dysfunctional two-party system.

  5. The nation does get what it deserves. It’s everyone else one mourns for. If we could just keep our ineptitude to ourselves and only punish the americans who actually inflict these economic & militaristic warmongers on the world…

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