What Obama appears to say, and what he really means

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Gintas remarked yesterday on the liberal attachment to affirmative action, “This is the typical cultural Marxist trick, using the exoteric meaning of the word equality against us while pushing their esoteric meaning.” It’s a point that’s been made before, but it is worth repeating.

I have a theory about Obama’s political success, and especially his success among self-described centrists. We all know that it rests on the outrageous notion that he is a moderate, a centrist, non-ideological, coolly rational, and uncommitted to any particular view of the world beyond what “the facts” say is best for America. People on the right, like me, have always been stunned that anybody could believe this, but it is exactly what millions of people believe. Years ago, during his election campaign, I saw why this was, but have never committed it to print.

The bad news is that he is extremely good at what he does. People who believe he is a bumbler, or has a low IQ, are engaged in wishful thinking, or perhaps they are victims of confirmation bias. Anyway, what Obama has mastered is using words, phrases, and images to mean more or less the exact opposite of what a conservative means when he says them, or indeed what most anyone means when he says it. He is able to couch self-evidently socialist ideas in language that most people identify as fuzzily conservative.

For example, he often speaks of Americans being able to “do great things,” to “innovate,” to “be leaders,” to “pull ourselves up,” and he decries “those who say America has lost its edge.” This sounds like a paean to American exceptionalism and the ability of Americans to form private associations to achieve all sorts of productive and creative wonders. That is what people hear. What he actually means—what he always, always means—is that the U.S. government is capable of great things, that “coming together” in the form of Federal agencies is Americans’ peculiar gift. He speaks of government in terms that most people reserve for the private sector, and sometimes in terms that people reserve for God Almighty. So independents and self-described liberal Christians are constantly “surprised” by what he does.

He speaks of our ability to innovate, to take care of ourselves, to care for our neighbors, to remain a people of faith, to be a force for good. What he means by all of these things is that faith in government is what makes us great, that the Federal government is the reason we can put our pants on in the morning, though of course people hear the exact opposite. Obama intentionally delivers speeches that steal the language of American post-war conservatism, and is very desirous of being compared to Ronald Reagan (many leftist writers have duly complied and made the comparison, stupid as it is). This is why, in my opinion, he is so lost without his teleprompter—it’s because his entire shtick is based on a foul deception, and on using words to mean their exact opposite. It is why whenever he is off-camera or in a comfortable setting he constantly makes gaffes such as his “God and guns” remark. It is why he is so reluctant to do press conferences (has there been a president in our lifetimes who has talked so much and yet been so inaccessible?).

This “Marxist trick” Gintas refers to may be old, but I’m sure we have never seen anyone so practiced and skillful in the art as our current president. Perhaps I ascribe to much importance to this element in Obama’s public speeches, but it seems to me to explain a lot of otherwise confusing things, such as Timothy Dolan’s shock and surprise at Obama’s HHS mandate. Whatever Obama told him, I’m sure it sounded very much like, “We won’t force you to provide anything you object to,” while what it really meant was, “We’re going to shove this down your fool throat whether you like it or not. More tea?”

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James P. writes:

Sage McLaughlin attributes Obama’s success to his crafty ability to make socialistic ideas sound conservative.

I would argue that “compassionate conservatism” is exactly the same thing — an effort to sell socialism as conservatism.

When Nixon, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. tried to make socialism sound conservative, the Left rejected this and them with violent contempt, and the Right reacted with suspicion. Obama has had more success selling the same medicine to both Left and Right. Note the irony: we might expect conservative Presidents to be the best at rebranding conservatism, but a socialist has had more success at this than three Republican Presidents.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 23, 2012 10:54 AM | Send

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