Louis L’Amour often noted that “there’s no stopping a man who knows he’s in the right and keeps on coming.” Perhaps I’m just overcynical, but even in my teens, when I first discovered the sentiment, my first thought was “yeah, but how much damage can he do if he isn’t in the right but genuinely believes he is?”
Richard Fernandez thinks Obama is appealing to the extreme Left because it’s almost the only reliable constituency left to him.
By energizing the true believers it may be possible to limit the extent of the Republican gains. Going on the defense often means shortening lines. At least, it is a kind of Final Protective Fire.
Jeff Goldstein picks up on that, and applies a little pop psychology:
I think this less a consciously cynical electoral ploy (though it acts as an electoral ploy for the very reasons Fernandez discusses) than it is the effort of a long-pampered and entitled narcissist to hold on to a perception of self as an intellectual giant that even he must be beginning to question, given the failures of his policies.
Jeff has a good point, but I’m always a little leery of pyschological explanations. Fernandez does better, I think, by quoting Lenin:
We have been bustling for five years trying to improve our state apparatus, but it has been mere bustle, which has proved useless in these five years, of even futile, or even harmful. This bustle created the impression that we were doing something, but in effect it was only clogging up our institutions and our brains.
It is high time things were changed.
That is the pronouncement of a true believer. Lenin truly believed that his policies were, in fact, good ones that would yield benefits for the Russian people; his complaint was not that the policies had failed, but that they had been stalled by faulty implementations, and some pure and simple bad luck, that were seized upon by Enemies of the People and used to block Progress. The fact that the policies had failed didn’t mean they were bad, it meant that they weren’t put properly into effect.
Diagnoses of narcissism and stupidity may or may not be valid, but what needs to be seriously considered is the possibility that we are looking at the Second Coming of Vladimir Ilyitch. Barack Obama has never once given any indication that he questions the validity of his proposals and policies; you would be hard-pressed to find an example of his recognition that the policies might validly be questioned. In fact, it is difficult to find an example of his defending his policies. His response to questions is not to defend his proposals and theories, but to attack the motives and reasoning powers of the questioners, whom he does not see as “critics” but as obstructionists.
Obama is a true believer who sees himself not as wrong, but as beleaguered. He is the Louis L’Amour hero, battered, bloody, and gunshot, who retires from the field only long enough to recover sufficiently to return to the battle, because he knows he’s in the right and means to keep on coming. Lenin again, from Fernandez:
I know that enormous resistance will have to be put up, that devilish persistence will be required, that in the first few years at least work in this field will be hellishly hard. Nevertheless, I am convinced that only by such effort shall we be able to achieve our aim; and that only by achieving this aim shall we create a republic that is really worthy of the name of Soviet, socialist, and so on, and so forth.
Advisers in self-defense often tell us to carry the biggest gun we can comfortably use, because in the face of a sufficiently motivated attacker the important thing is stopping power. When faced with “devilish persistence”, damage must be incapacitating to be of value. How likely is it that a mere election setback will dissuade or even deter a determined true believer who intends to return to the fray and keep on coming?