Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The End of the American Presidency

The American presidency came to an end on October 15, 1992 during a Town Hall debate between Bush I, Ross Perot and Bill Clinton. The stage of the Town Hall seemed more like a place for Phil Donahue or Sally Jesse Raphael to strut around, biting their lips, and dragging out tawdry tales for audience applause, than for three presidential candidates to discuss the future of the country.

The audience had more in common with the one that usually showed up to cheer or boo Sally or Phil's guests, and the high point of the evening and the end of the country came when one of those guests rose and with the distinctive painstakingly slurred pronunciation of the semi-literate demanded that the candidates tell her how the "National Debt" had affected them personally.

Bush I stumblingly tried to turn her stupidity into some kind of policy question, but the WW2 vet was completely out of his depth on Phil Donahue's talk show stage. The moderatrix however demanded that he answer how it had affected him personally. Forget the country or the consequences, feelings mattered more than policy. It was a Phil Donahue moment and the Donahue candidate stepped into the spotlight.

Bill Clinton understood that the Sally Jesse Raphael audience member did not have a clue what the National Debt is or anything about the economy. But he also knew that it didn't matter. This wasn't about the facts, this was an "I Feel" moment. The questioner did not want to know how a problem would be solved, she only wanted to know that the people on top "cared" about her, and Clinton did what he did best-- he told her that he really cared.

The draft dodging hippie who had boasted of his drug use and gone to Moscow to defame his country, a man who was at the time every bit the extreme impossible candidate that Obama would become 16 years later, went on to the White House. And the American presidency ended.

Bush II made sure that he would never repeat his father's mistake. He ran as the "Compassionate Conservative" and the "Uniter, Not the Divider". He ran as the man who could never be caught flat-footed by an "I Feel" question. Bush II always felt things and insisted on sharing them with us.

The American presidency exited the age of policy and entered the age of empathy. Competency no longer mattered. The man in the grey suit who understood the issues had no place on the stage. To get there he would have to get in touch with his inner child and talk about it. He would have to spill his feelings out so that people really believed that he cared.

Without October 15, 1992, there would have been no Clinton. And without Clinton there would have been no Obama. The Democrats had nominated bad men before, but they came with the patina of experience and credibility. Even the sleaziest and least experienced Democratic President, JFK, spent decades polishing his resume and countering his weak points in a calculated plan to get to the top. But Clinton, reeking of sleaze like the back seat of a beat up Chevy, grinned his way through a primary that no one took seriously because the Democratic Party didn't believe Bush I could be beaten, and then felt his way through a national election. It was a small step for one man, but a great step for sleazy tricksters everywhere with charisma and no ethics. America had become Louisiana and every Huey Long could aspire to be its king.

The current qualifications for an office holder include the ability to chat on The View, read Top Ten lists for David Letterman and make fun of yourself on Saturday Night Live. Most of all it's the ability to emote in public, a skill that was once the province of an actor that with the advent of reality TV and the instant internet celebrity has become a basic life skill for everyone.

Bush I was unable to cross the "I" bridge. Obama lives under the "I" bridge. Even more than Clinton, he is the "I" candidate. Conservatives assail him for egotism, but that same shallow self-centered "I'ness" is the lightning in a bottle of modern politics. Only the truly self-centered can fully emote to the back rows. It's a skill most common to egocentrics who feel their own pain so loudly that they can make it seem like your pain.

Actors can project their emotions, stirring our empathy, but it isn't our pain they feel, it's their own. The star shedding tears on the deck of the Titanic, in a concentration camp or the unemployment office isn't feeling the pain of those people, he's thinking about the time his dog died or how that nail keeps digging into his foot.

It's not empathy that's on stage, but the solipsistic ego that doesn't offer empathy, but demands it. Billy did not feel the pain of his idiot questioner or anyone's pain. He made us feel his pain, but mostly he made us feel his undiluted joy at running things and being the center of attention. That was why so many people loved him and still love him. He was the star of the raunchy comedy who kept making more and more sequels, and though the audience knew that it should despise him, it was glorying too much in his revels to be able to break free of that emotional identification.

Clinton made it inevitable that the perfect "I" president would appear to live his life in public, offering constant coverage of his life, his tastes, his family, his pets and his thoughts on every subject. He would not be a private man, he would be a public spectacle. He would be able to talk about himself, not only at debates, but all the time. He would always be an "I" and though he might screw up the country, the Sally Jesse Raphael audience would live through him, feel his pain, share his joys and cheer him on in the great collective noise of a celebrity and the fans who live for him.

The American presidency ended. The American celebritocracy began. The process that began with televised debates ended with government as entertainment. There was no more room for the ugly or for men and women with private emotions. A man who could not empathize with the national debt at a drop of a hat, who could not abandon the habits of a lifetime of thinking in practical terms, instead of emotional terms, was no longer a plausible candidate.

And so we have a towering national debt that keeps adding trillions to it and a great many feelings. We have a surplus of politicians who cannot stop spending money and cannot stop talking about how they feel about it. They could bring Sally Jesse Raphael or Phil Donahue out of retirement to host a show on, "Politicians Who Love Spending Money And Can't Stop" that would end with everyone feeling better about their feelings. But it's redundant because we already have that show. It's called the national government and you can catch it on CSPAN. It's not very exciting, but give it time and there will be a makeover. 

October 15, 1992 changed the conversation from a politician's ability to discuss what he would do about a problem, to talking about how it made him feel bad. And now we and our politicians feel bad about a variety of things. But they all blame everyone else and there's no objective way to settle the debate because feelings aren't objective, they're subjective.

Voters are slowly dragging themselves out of Obama's "I-Sphere" because of the practical necessities of survival, such as having a job, which is difficult to come by in an economy run at the whim of a boy-king who throws handfuls of money into the air and waits for them to turn into magic green jobs. And to do that they have to untangle themselves from their emotional entanglement with his image, his race and the vicarious life that they have lived through him. They have to realize that feeling things is not nearly as important as doing them.

But Obama's defeat, if it comes, will not restore what was. Obama is a symptom of the problem, not the problem. And the problem is that we have stopped asking the hard questions and instead looked for soft reassurances. Instead of holding politicians accountable for their actions, we have held them accountable for our emotions. And that has led us into unmitigated disasters on numerous fronts.

With all of that it was no surprise that the first question in the Town Hall debate was an "I Feel" question directed at Romney or that Romney handled it glibly with "I Feel" material delivered in the soothing voice usually reserved by doctors for calming down upset patients. And that is the function of a qualified politician now, to speak softly and soothingly reassure everyone that nothing is wrong. There's no reason to be upset. Yes the ship is sinking, but while it does, let's stand on deck, listen to the orchestra play a song and talk, talk about our feelings.


Keli Ata said...

You're right.

I don't think we'll get a president with genuine empathy for quite a while. I'll never forget Reagn's actions at a memorial service for the family and friends of those who died on the Challenger.

Keli Ata said...

My favorite part of this debate was when Obama addressed moderator Candy Crowley as Barry. That was priceless.

lemon lime moon said...

Men of honor and truth cannot win an election, if elections are even real anymore and I have deep doubts that they are.
I believe Eisenhower was the end of our real Presidents. It didn't last much beyond that.

Some dude said...

You are totally wrong. The problem is that we gave women the vote. Women think with their emotions. For them an emotion is as real as a material object. Once we gave them the vote, we gave them power and we gave them influence over our way of thinking.

Do you want to know why we never see a Lincoln - Douglas debate? Or why our school policy insists on caring and compassiion over actual successes in the class? Or why with a tanking economy where we all know that we have to cut spending we instead do the opposite?

Its because the voters think with their emotions. And they do that because they CANNOT do otherwise. This is also the reason why republicans do so much stupid garbage. It isnt an ideological issue, it's a gender question.

Anonymous said...

The root of the poison tree is Clinton, but for a different reason. Clinton shifted the country from 'personal responsibility' to 'social responsibility'. It was the first step on the road to socialism. Obama is a natural consequence of that path, but represents the last stop before it is too late.

Think about the JFK statement, "ask not what your country can do for you...." How far away does that sound?

When Bill said, "I feel your pain," it turns the JFK statement on its head.

Clinton shifted the policies of the Federal Government to diminish personal responsibility, and the people followed.

Sadly, the masses don't want another Reagan, they want another Clinton. As a people, we have devolved from farmers to a cargo cult. Farming is hard, begging is easy.

fsy said...

The problem is that we gave women the vote.

That's half the problem. The other half is that we destroyed the standing of husbands and the institution of marriage in general, so that women are no longer asking their husbands "Who should I vote for, dear?" the day before the election.

fsy said...

Bush I was unable to cross the "I" bridge. Obama lives under the "I" bridge.

All-time classic!

BTW, how do you fit in the fact that America's last really great President actually was a professional actor?

Anonymous said...

Actually, after last night I am hopeful. Obama fully unraveled in front of a national audience. He had nothing to offer about the economy to support his re-election, other than "stay the course, four more years" rah-rah stuff, which doesn't convince anyone. On Libya, he dug a pit for himself and started the process of throwing the dirt in, all on his own. Regardless of what you or I may think about Mitt, it may be that our problems, and a mature decision this election year, i.e. electing a successful businesman who has actually run something, may draw back serious people with gravitas and solutions to our national political life, instead of the circus clowns and over-the-top panderers that populate it at the moment.

Some dude said...


Reagan was a professional ACTOR, that wasnt "genuine" anything. It was his job to convince people of things he didnt feel.

This is exactly why I have a burning hatred for the political masses. They have absolutely no sense or reason at all. They deify human beings and are totally incapable of rationally analyzing anything.

Yes, Reagan was a good president in many ways. He was also a spectacularly shitty president in others. His policies led to an expansion of advertisements geared towards children, which today has become a sort of mental plague emanating from Madison Ave, He also helped along the destruction of the American farm, turning it over to nightmare corporations like Cargill, etc.

Some dude said...


Read your own words. If we women didnt have the vote, do you think that the standing of husbands and fathers would have been wrecked?

For example, Before they got the vote, there was no concept of prohibition. In fact, the disaster known as prohibition was passed the same year they got the vote. Proof that a wave of well meaning stupidity went through the body politic.

Some dude said...

Note: in my last comment, i wrote "we women". That was a typo!

fsy said...

This is exactly why I have a burning hatred for the political masses. They have absolutely no sense or reason at all. They deify human beings and are totally incapable of rationally analyzing anything.

The current debates and "analysis" surrounding them have me totally amazed that anyone could still be undecided after 4 years, and worse, these are the ones who may make the difference.

Trimegistus said...

This has been a growing problem since women got the vote. Feminist doctrine and wishful thinking nothwithstanding, women respond to emotional appeals more than men do. Women now make up the bulk of the active voting electorate. And the country is becoming more of a nanny state, responding to emotions and denying personal responsibility.

Since repealing women's suffrage is impossible, and women are increasingly imposing their mindset on men through education and the pathologizing of masculinity, there's really only one conclusion.

We're doomed.

Let's hope the barbarians who eventually take over are merciful.

Keli Ata said...

IMO Obama showed how much disdain he has for the working class. He once again droned on about higher education and not low skill jobs. What in the world is wrong with being a working class American? Or has he forgotten many Americans in low skill jobs have incomes that most would regard as middle class?

Anonymous said...

To hear Romney too delicately dancing around illegal immigration and illegal aliens matters was understandable, but sad.

It would be nice instead to hear him saying:



This is why, no matter why ILLEGAL ALIENS are here, because they have dreams or desires or pressing needs or they were oppressed in their home countries or they seek better life, so they think it is a good idea to trick the system, to go around the line, to jump in front of LEGAL IMMIGRATION queue - I utterly reject the idea of caring about them at expense and distress of MY FELLOW AMERICANS and MY NATION, to break or twist or ignore the existing U.S. immigration laws for their benefit.

Anonymous said...

I do remember that moronic question to GHWB. That is why I am amazed that Republicans agree to those Townhall formats.

Anonymous said...

Now you are blaming women? What are you, morons?

Perhaps I will blame the men, sitting in their
Lazy Boy recliners with the newspaper dropped
on the floor beside them, watching the golf channel, football, whatever sport turns them on,
farting and burping, scratching their testicles,
looking for the remote, yelling "where is the
remote?", "Hey, bring me a beer, hon".

Anonymous said...

On a serious side, the reason the repubs agree to these debate formats is that this is the only way they can get their ideas through the filter of the mainstream media.

This is the only way to reach 60 million people
and have at least a small window of opportunity to present your case. I think that is what Romney did. And he was smart to continue pounding on our country's and voters economic woes. As someone famously said, "Its the economy, stupid!"

fsy said...

Now you are blaming women? What are you, morons?

I apologize for blaming all women, and of course, repealing women's suffrage is not an option. The fact remains, though, that the women who do vote based on a raw emotional reaction are a significant portion of the ones abusing the democratic process and putting these evil fools in power.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anonymous, they are blaming all women.

Because, as is well known, males are perfect beings, who are never swayed by their emotions, and have never been suckered by slogans such as "Hope n' Change!", or slick politicians who promise them free money. /Sarc.

They probably long for the coming Caliphate.


The Gunslinger said...

"The problem is that we gave women the vote."

As a woman, I've actually made this argument, too. It's sad, but true. All women, of course don't just "feel", but enough do that the majority will consistently vote for the "caring" nanny huckster in any election.

ZZMike said...

You're equating "being a President in office" with "being a President on daytime TV". (I'm equating "daytime TV" with the debates - which may not be accurate.)

We've seen what Obama has done to the Office of President: bowing and scraping before foreign dignitaries, apologizing for the country around the world, appearing on "The View" (even Clinton's saxophone-playing didn't reach that depth. Almost, but not quite.

Bush I and II at least kept some dignity in the Office. Clinton and Obama (especially) have separated the Office from any form of dignity.

It's getting harder to respect the Office, when Obama doesn't.

Some Dude: You have it entirely wrong. It isn't women who vote with their emotions, it's liberals. To say that "they CANNOT do otherwise" is simply ignorant. On the other hand, it does apply perfectly to liberals (just look at the Twitter posts calling for riots if Obama isn't elected).

Anonymous: " Obama fully unraveled in front of a national audience."

Where he REALLY unraveled was in front of the Univision audience.

Triton said...

"The problem is that we gave women the vote."
I actually hadn't thought about that, but there is definitely some validity there. Not as a rule of course, but look at the polls and who's right at the top of the Obama voters (besides blacks who are blatently racist)...its women. I was pleasantly surprised on the Frank Luntz segment on Fox News after the debate when one woman called BS on another one when she talked about Romney taking women back to the stone ages. That was refreshing.

Geoffrey Britain said...

The tougher the times, the less satisfying facile, emotional appeals suffice.

Romney's going to win this election despite all the MSM can do because when the "rubber meets the road", as the last 4 years of recession have made clear, 'hope and change' don't pay the bills.

Were the economy not in the crapper and four years not past, since "The One" made his promises...were it still 2008... emotion would carry the day and your hypothesis Daniel would still be valid.

But alas for Obama, that is not the case, proving once again Lincoln's dictum; "you can fool all of the people some of the time and, some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool all of the people, all of the time".

Consider that with all the advantages that the MSM has had, they have not been able to keep the truth from 50% of the American people. Nor is that percentage final, every day more become aware of the MSM's bias and betrayal of their 'raison de etre'.

We are in the midst of another 100 yrs war, though this time the war is cultural and philosophical. Unlike the protestant/catholic conflict however, the left's position is antithetical to reality and human nature. In time it cannot help but fail, not because we are on the side of the angels but because they have chosen to defy 'mother nature' otherwise known as objective reality.

When considering the march of the present into history, historical perspective is everything.

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