The less some people have going for them, the greater is their self-esteem

(Note: Several comments have been added to this entry.)

Below are Michelle Obama’s remarks to the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen earlier this week, with my comments added in brackets. I started to watch it on YouTube, but it was too excruciating, and I stopped. It’s much easier to take if you just read it. However, some things hit you on video tape that you will miss from text, like the part about her greatest memories being sitting in her father’s lap watching one Olympics after another.

I was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, not far from where the Games would open and close. Ours was a neighborhood of working families, families with modest homes and strong values. [What is she talking about? Why is she telling the Olympic Committee this? Why should the Olympic Committee care about the neighborhood where she grew up?]

Sports were what brought our community together. They strengthened our ties to one another. Growing up, when I played games with the kids in my neighborhood, we picked sides based not on who you were, but what you could bring to the game. Sports taught me self-confidence, teamwork and how to compete as an equal. Sports were a gift I shared with my dad, especially the Olympic Games. [Of what possible interest could this be to the Olympic Committee? They’re thinking of the best city where to hold the summer Olympics, not about how Michelle Obama felt playing sports when she was a child.

[I think this is the answer. As the first black couple in the White House, the Obamas feel that an aura of sacredness, of transformative global significance, surrounds them. Therefore anything with which they are associated, such as Chicago, also takes on a transformative global significance. And therefore if the Olympics are held in Chicago, the Olympics will take on an aura of transformative global significance. The Obamas are like the Pharoah and Queen of ancient Egypt, divine vessels through whom the regenerative powers of the cosmos flow into human society.]

Some of my best memories are sitting on my dad’s lap cheering on Olga and Nadia, Carl Lewis and others for their brilliant perfection. [Who cares? Of what possible interest is this to anyone, that Michelle, along with many millions of other people, enjoyed watching the Olympics?] Like so many young people, I was inspired. I found myself dreaming that maybe just maybe, if I worked hard enough, I too could achieve something great. But I never dreamed that the Olympic flame might someday light up lives in my neighborhood.

But today I can dream, and I am dreaming of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in Chicago that will light up lives and neighborhoods all across America and all across the world, that will expose all our neighborhoods to new sports and new role models, that will show every child that regardless of wealth or gender or race or physical ability, there is a sport and a place for them too. [But every Olympics does this. Every Olympics features lots of different athletes of every race and nationality. And the whole world watches the Olympics on TV. So why would its being in Chicago be such a big deal?]

That’s why I’m here today. I’m asking you to choose Chicago, I’m asking you to choose America. I’m not asking just as the First Lady of the United States, who is eager to welcome the world to our shores—and not just as a Chicagoan, who is proud and excited to show the world what my city can do, not just as a mother raising two beautiful young women to embrace athleticism and embrace their full potential, I’m also asking as a daughter. See, my dad would have been so proud to witness these Games in Chicago. I know they would have meant something much more to him too. [She’s “eager to welcome the world to our shores”? In other words, up to this moment, the world is not being welcomed to our shores. In reality 50 million people visit the United States every year. But for Michelle they don’t count. Only if the Olympics are held in Chicago and invested with the Obamas’ sacred aura of global significance will the world truly be welcomed to our shores. Only then will America become truly good and truly a part of the world, which up to this moment it has been excluding.]

You see, in dad’s early 30s, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As he got sicker, it became harder for him to walk let alone play his favorite sports. But my dad was determined that sports continue to be a vital lifeline, not just to the rest of the world, but to me and my brother. [What does her sob story have to do with the Olympic Committee’s choice of a city where to hold the Games? Michelle is so grandiose that she thinks that because she loved her father, the International Olympic Committee should choose the city where she grew up.] And even as we watched my dad struggle to hold himself up on crutches, he never stopped playing with us, and he refused to let us take our abilities for granted. He believed that his little girl should be taught no less than his son. So he taught me how to throw a ball and a mean right hook better than any boy in my neighborhood. [I don’t know about better, but I’m sure it was meaner.]

More importantly, my dad taught us the fundamental rules of the game, rules that continue to guide our lives today—to engage with honor, with dignity and fair play. My dad was my hero, and when I think of what these Games can mean to people all over the world, I think about people like my dad, people who face seemingly insurmountable challenges but never let go. They work a little harder, but they never give up. [Ok, but that’s true of sports generally. What does it have to do with Chicago, other than that, because Michelle is from there, Games in Chicago will be invested with her sacred substance?]

Now my dad didn’t live to see the day that the Paralympic Games became the force that they are today, but if he had lived to see this day, if he could have seen the Paralympic Games share a global stage with the Olympic Games, if he could have witnessed athletes who can excel and prove that nothing is more powerful than the human spirit, I know it would have restored in him the same spirit of unbridled possibilities as he instilled in me.

Chicago’s bid for the Olympic and paralympic movement is about so much more than what we can offer the games, it’s about what games can offer all of us, it’s about inspiring this generation and building lasting legacy for the next. [Right—so why should the Committee choose Chicago?]

It’s about our responsibility as Americans, not just to put on great games, but to use these games as a vehicle to bring us together, to usher in a new era of international engagement, to give us hope and to change lives all over the world. [So, as of now, we are without hope, because the world is such a bad place, and America is such a mean place, as Michelle once called it. But, Michelle is saying, if the Committee chooses Chicago, then the world will be transformed for the better, just as she once said would happen if America elected her husband president. That hasn’t worked out so well, has it?] And I brought somebody with me today who knows a little something about change, my husband, the president of the United States, Barack Obama. [Human egotism and narcissism, even self-worship, are not new phenomena. But have they ever taken on such a crass and off—putting form as in the person of Michelle Obama? But I think it’s great. Not just America, but the whole world, is getting a lesson in black American femalehood it will not soon forget.]

- end of initial entry -

Christopher B. writes:

Is the use of “dad” and “kid” in Michelle’s speech an attempt to be cute, or is it a symptom of continuing infantilization in US/Western society? Or is it just standard US English usage? Or is it a black thing? Anyway, it really jars with me.

LA replies:

Over the last 25 years it’s become common for American adults to refer to their father and mother as “my dad” and “my mom.” I never do so myself. This bothered me a lot for a while. But this seems to be one issue where my passion for cultural criticism has not stayed white hot.

James P. writes:

Michelle’s remarks sounds like standard Obama campaign material from last year (which stands to reason since it was probably written by the same people).

Full of vapid platitudes, feelgood anecdotes, and vague promises of wonderful hopenchange if they get what they want, but zero specifics on their future program.

That formula has worked well for them so far, so they had no reason to think it wouldn’t work on the IOC.

Larry G. writes:

The chance of anyone from her old neighborhood ever competing in the Olympics is millions to one. The chance of that person winning is even lower. One can get an equally realistic dose of “hope” by purchasing a lottery ticket from the local convenience store. If the people in her old neighborhood are poor, they can’t afford tickets to the Olympics. If they are not poor, then why do they need “hope”? You get a better view on TV anyway. Wouldn’t it be better for her old neighbors to see the shanty towns outside Rio, either on TV or in person, so they can realize how well off they actually are compared to real poor people?

Matt Creek writes:

“Some of my best memories are sitting on my dad’s lap cheering on Olga and Nadia, Carl Lewis and others for their brilliant perfection.”

FYI, Carl Lewis debuted in the Olympics in the 1984 Summer games, when Michelle Obama was 20 years old, and by her own account she sat in her father’s lap cheering him on. This is clearly either a lie or an admission of some very unorthodox behavior in her immediate family. Her feet should be held to the fire to determine which it is. [LA replies: maybe she was young enough to be in her father’s lap for Olga and Nadia, but then they needed to add a prominent black Olympic star to the list. Lewis was too late for Michelle to have been in her father’s lap to wtach him, but they decided to leave in the name anyway.]

On a related note, I have found it quite deliciously ironic that Rio and South America have played the role of the “have nots” in this Olympic fiasco. From what I read in my local paper this morning (Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle), one of Rio’s main selling points was that North America, Europe, and Asia have all hosted multiple Olympics and South America has yet to host them, and this is not fair. You’d think that, given his positions on Grutter, Ricci, and affirmative action in general, that President Obama would have been on Rio’s side instead of Chicago’s. But that would take integrity, and a willingness to apply a general principle all the time, whether or not it was to his own benefit.

One STDV writes:

Great analysis of this ridiculous speech. These mawkish “Dear Diary” remarks mirror what we all noted by reading her horrid Princeton thesis.

Michelle lacks any ability to formulate a logical argument. As you repeat throughout the piece, what relevance does most of this have to Chicago? Her speaking was presumably intended to showcase Chicago as the best Olympic option. Yet her entire speech consisted of either personal anecdote or generalizations on the Olympics that did nothing to substantiate the case for Chicago.

I imagine she wrote the speech herself because no speechwriter could evoke such overt self-aggrandizement and pomposity and in doing so, completely ignore the actual intention of her being allowed to speak.

A. Zarkov writes:

When interviewing for a job, the smart candidate emphasizes what he will do for the company if hired. The employer does not want to hear that you need a job, or getting a job will make you happy. Many job seeks ignore this conventional wisdom, and they often don’t get hired. Michelle Obama behaves like the clueless job seeker. She should have told the IOC that Chicago has magnificent architecture, fine restaurants, ample hotel capacity and unique facilities for the athletes. She should have told them that Chicago has a hub airport and its central location that will attract visitors from all over the US, Canada and Mexico as well as the world. A little history about the famous and successful 1893 Chicago World’s Fair would also have been helpful. But no, the Obamas are so steeped in their own narcissism, they couldn’t sell 100 dollar bills at half price. They are a continuing embarrassment to America, and more people are realizing this every day. I wonder if they realize that hubris was the greatest sin in the ancient Greek world? Now we see why.

October 5

Kristor writes:

When you take the fundamental liberal position of radical skepticism about our ability to apprehend reality—a nominalist, Humean, or Kantian skepticism—then it follows that you must eventually jettison all supra-personal factors of experience, all objective truth or beauty, all transcendent principles or entities. You must jettison everything, that is, but the individual self and its adventures: its desires, tragedies, fulfillments, and so forth. Thus the liberal reduction of all human discourse to nothing more than a chaotic stew of parochial, necessarily self-interested “narratives” jostling for attention (but with no basis for a just judgment that any are better than any others—this being the source of the one principle liberals recognize, that of nondiscrimination). For the liberal skeptic, it has to be all about me, because none of us can really know anything else. So Michelle Obama has no way to understand the Olympics, or talk about them, except as an aspect of her personal narrative, and she has nothing to offer the rest of the world on behalf of her hometown except that it is her hometown.

One of the first principles of sales is that the salesman must stay focused on the customer’s world. The minute he begins talking about his own world—using jargon, or talking about his family, or his own ideas about the right product to buy, or the technical reasons his product is than those of the competition, etc.—he begins to lose the sale. In making a sale, all that matters is what matters to the customer. The salesman must focus exclusively on that. His attention to the customer is an echo in the salesman of the charity and sympathy that lies at the root of all successful human coordination. And this focus on the other person is something that, thanks to the solipsism entailed in her liberal skepticism, Michelle Obama cannot well do. Oh, to be sure, she is no doubt a loving and sympathetic mother, wife, and friend. (I don’t mean to pick on Michelle Obama, or assume too much about her conclusions about the arguments of Friar Ockham. I am taking her as a rhetorical exemplar.) But any success she achieves in such roles must arise from her inability to deny the immediate physiological connection she enjoys with her children, husband, and friends. She touches them with her body, and so for their sake makes an unprincipled exception to her general skepticism. But her skepticism (and as a liberal she is by definition a skeptic) cripples her capacity to reason or talk about anything more abstract than the concrete persons who surround her. And this privation of the intellectual equipment needed to engage with the wider world is endemic in the liberal press. All they can talk about is how they feel, or how others say they feel; feelings are their only remaining analytical tools. They are nominalists. They can’t help it.

Now, I would stop there, except that (as often happens when I read VFR) I made a connection to an apparently unrelated subject: Darwinism. So I have to share that, too. As far as an epistemological skeptic is concerned, the only way we can believe something about the world outside ourselves that is really, purely, and simply true, is by sheer happenstance; we can be correct about things only in the way that a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day. Now, the thing that makes the broken clock analogy so charming and effective is of course the fact that once a clock is broken it doesn’t “tell” time at all. It just sits there. So, in just the same way, the skeptic must argue that when he happens to be correct about reality, he is just like the broken clock: he isn’t really “correct” any more than the broken clock “tells” time. In reality, the clock doesn’t tell time at all, and nor is the epistemological skeptic really correct. Rather, the skeptic just sits there, cooking along, and like the broken clock he just happens now and then to agree with his surroundings to a certain extent. But really that agreement bespeaks no orderly relation between the skeptic and his environment.

So, here’s the connection with Darwinism. Darwinism says that if you take a bazillion broken clocks, with no working clocks anywhere, and then you smash all the clocks that don’t show the correct time, you’ll be left with a population of clocks that do show the correct time. And that’s how you get “telling” time out of a situation where nothing is “telling” time at all.

LA replies:

You wrote:

“In making a sale, all that matters is what matters to the customer. The salesman must focus exclusively on that. His attention to the customer is an echo in the salesman of the charity and sympathy that lies at the root of all successful human coordination.”

I agree entirely. I have often thought that a good salesman—for example, a good men’s clothing salesman—is an embodiment of positive human values. He’s going outside himself, thinking about the customer’s needs, figuring out what will suit the customer. It’s a combination of interest in another human being plus practical and creative thought on his behalf.

You wrote:

“… the skeptic must argue that when he happens to be correct about reality, he is just like the broken clock: he isn’t really ‘correct’ any more than that the broken clock ‘tells’ time. In reality, the clock doesn’t tell time at all, and nor is the epistemological skeptic really correct. Rather, the skeptic just sits there, cooking along, and like the broken clock he just happens now and then to agree with his surroundings to a certain extent.”

That’s a terrific insight.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 03, 2009 06:01 PM | Send

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