the villains of the Obama presidency

Democrats are criticizing President Obama these days nearly as much as Republicans. In this New York Times editorial, Drew Westen sums up the reasons why many liberals are angry. Westen offers the following observation as a way of summarizing his criticism:

“When he wants to be, the president is a brilliant and moving speaker, but his stories virtually always lack one element: the villain who caused the problem, who is always left out, described in impersonal terms, or described in passive voice, as if the cause of others’ misery has no agency and hence no culpability.”

That is an accurate observation; Obama’s stories do often lack villains. But there is a reason. Class warfare would not do us any good right now, and Obama knows that.

Whose fault was the housing bubble? Should we blame the people who bought the houses knowing that they couldn’t make the payments? How about the realtors who sold the houses since their bosses were telling them to sell as many as possible? Maybe the bosses, who bought the explanation that the payments could be made with fresh credit as long as the market rose, which it always would? The investment bankers that packed those mortgages into derivatives that could be sold to investors? The ratings agencies who figured that mortgage backed securities were always reliable in the past, so they must be good now?

The point is, there was no convention of rich people that got together and decided to screw the American people. There were a lot of people that were all, to a very small degree, responsible. The problem was a set of flaws in the system, not a group of evil people. What Obama wants to do is fix the problems in the system, not hang everyone working in it. So, the story he has told has lacked a good villain.

The Bush administration used the term “Islamic extremism” to describe terrorism. Republicans often clamor to be the first and loudest to denounce Islam. They harp about how terrible it would be to let the enemy build a mosque near Ground Zero. Herman Cain even suggests that there is a danger that “they” will impose Sharia Law in America.

But Muslims don’t hate America. A few do, but most don’t. Obama understands that. He deals with the ones who seek to do harm, but he refuses to drum up hatred for the ones who don’t.

We don’t live in a movie, where everyone is either a hero or a villain. Obama would increase his chances of winning next year’s election if he were to portray rich people as villains. He flirts with the idea, but his heart isn’t in it. He knows that for every Bernie Madoff there are at least a hundred honest investment bankers.

True, Obama thinks the rich should pay higher taxes. But that is not because he thinks they are bad people. He thinks they can afford to pitch in a bit more toward the common purpose of the country.

Obama might be able to repeal the Bush tax cuts on the rich by starting a class war. But he knows that would be bad for the country in the long run, so he refuses to turn the rich into the villains of his presidency.

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5 Responses to the villains of the Obama presidency

  1. villagebear says:

  2. Couple things…

    “Obama might be able to repeal the Bush tax cuts on the rich by starting a class war.”
    He won’t have to “repeal” the tax cuts to “end” them. Ezra Klein has written on numerous occasions that the single biggest thing that Congress/Obama can do to lower the deficit is to let the Bush Tax cuts expire. Put simply, all Obama has to do is “do nothing.”

    And your point about creating a “villain…” From what I read about the beginning of Obama’s “bus tour” through the Midwest, he has done a good job of making Congress his foil: “POTUS, channels inner-Truman, and uses Congress as his foil here in Cannon Falls, MN. Doesn’t hit GOP as hard as he hits Congress as whole” – (@chucktodd, 1:21p, August 15th).

    With Love and Gratitude,


  3. Suszek says:

    Well, the Bush tax cuts are currently set to expire at the end of 2012. So, you’re right. However, his rhetoric suggests that he would like to end them before then. Also, he wants to extend the cuts for those making less than $250,000. In order to extend those while letting the rest expire, he will need congressional support.

    That is a good point about Obama making Congress into a villain. However, I would say that there is a genuine difference between vilifying Congress for refusing to pass Obama’s preferred legislation and vilifying either wealthy Americans or Muslims.

  4. Re: those making less than $250,000 — I didn’t know that was his position on the matter. If that’s the case, then you’re right — Congressional support is necessary. And, if that’s the case, then he’ll likely have to “give” a little on the higher bracket (which Dem’s will complain about [of course] and Rep’s will complain about [you’re taxing the job-creators!]).

    Re: Congress as a villain. I didn’t hear his speech in Minnesota, merely parroting Chuck Todd’s interpretation. I didn’t get the sense that Pres. Obama was using Congress as a villain, per se, and especially not in the way that we saw Muslims vilified in the manner in which you wrote about initially.

  5. Suszek says:

    Here is a link to the White House’s explanation of the December 2010 tax deal. It highlights the difference between what he wanted out of the deal and what Republicans wanted.

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