January 21st, 2013

I’m sorry, but is James Fallows really this dumb?

Or is he just pretending to be, and assuming we are?

Perhaps it’s a meaningless question, because it actually doesn’t matter in practical terms. But since I’m interested in what makes people tick, I still ask it.

What am I referring to? This:

[His inaugural address] was the most sustainedly “progressive” statement Barack Obama has made in his decade on the national stage.

I was expecting an anodyne tone-poem about healing national wounds, surmounting partisanship, and so on. As has often been the case, Obama confounded expectations — mine, at least. Four years ago, when people were expecting a barn-burner, the newly inaugurated president Obama gave a deliberately downbeat, sober-toned presentation about the long challenges ahead. Now — well, it’s almost as if he has won re-election and knows he will never have to run again and hears the clock ticking on his last chance to use the power of the presidency on the causes he cares about. If anyone were wondering whether Obama wanted to lower expectations for his second term … no, he apparently does not…

More detailed parsing later, but this speech made news and alters politics in a way I had not anticipated.

It “alters” nothing. Anyone who didn’t see this coming from several miles (and at least three years) away has the judgment and observational powers of a bunch of rocks. I don’t usually speak that bluntly, but sheesh!

Plus, what’s up with this “it’s almost as if” business? There’s no “almost” and no “as if” about it.

Several years ago I wrote a post in which I predicted this. And believe me, I offer this not to show that I have any special prescience. It was actually rather obvious:

What Obama may be saying is merely this: I know I must pretend to be changing my ways because the people hate what I’ve been doing, and I’m up for re-election in 2012. So I’ll use my silver tongue to say I’ll change, and hope I won’t have to actually do anything (there’s that “hope and change” thing; it worked before). The people are stupid and gullible, and all I’ve done wrong so far anyway is to fail to sell myself better.”

That’s one possibility. Another is that Obama actually will move towards the middle, in deed as in word. But it will be a temporary feint, a move made to convince doubters that he’s gotten the message and changed his ways.

It need only be until the next election. If Obama can moderate himself enough to be able to point to a few small but real compromises with the Republicans, he won’t be losing much and he’ll be gaining a lot. The American people are a generally genial and forgiving (not to say trusting) lot, predisposed to like him, and by then he may indeed have rehabilitated himself in the eyes of enough voters that he will win his bid for re-election and even increase the Democrats’ Congressional representation.

And then, and then—voila! Four more years! Four years in which he won’t have to answer to the electorate at all. He will be unleashed to do whatever it is he really wants. And does anyone think that would look moderate at all?

One thing I was wrong about, though: Obama did it all without making compromises with the Republicans at all. With the heartfelt cooperation of the press, he managed to convince the American people he was compromising when he actually wasn’t. Nice.

[ADDENDUM: Ace reflects on what Obama is doing here, and whether he will succeed. I have to say that right now I’m less optimistic than Ace. Hope he’s correct, though, about Obama’s chances for success.]

[ADDENDUM II: Another observation: isn’t it interesting that Obama’s address today was so much more liberal than in 2009, when in fact his liberal mandate is so much less strong? Republicans have the House (which they didn’t in 2009), and of course his own margin of victory was considerably smaller this time around.

Doesn’t matter. He will do it because yes, he can.]

34 Responses to “I’m sorry, but is James Fallows really this dumb?”

  1. Otiose Says:

    Fallows is not dumb, but he sees the world differently and has different goals than likely most of the people who frequent here.

    Obama and perhaps Fallows seem to believe that Obama’s reelection carries with it some broad mandate for sweeping change along leftist goals/ideals. Or perhaps that it’s a reward for a successful first term as in Reagan’s case – Obama seems to think this.

    The extreme divisions within the country are still very much with us and the timing of Obama’s win may actually be very bad luck.

    His reelection is evidence of the power of the incumbency – remember Bush II – not a mandate.

    And the timing is bad luck in that as Barone points out in a recent column we may be close to major shift to one side or the other of that divide. Obama is holding a very hot potato for the next four years, pushing some bad policies (not anything like Reagan in this) that can’t end well. In other words he’s nicely positioned to get the blame (justifiably IMO).

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Otiose: but when I write that Fallows is dumb I’m not referring to his politics, his goals, or anything like that. I’m referring to his surprise that Obama is turning more to the left. Why would anyone, left or right, who’s been paying attention, be surprised?

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Fallows is neither assuming that we are dumb nor acting stupidly. He doesn’t care that we know what is going on, only that a majority of American’s don’t and continue to drink the left’s kool-aid. And Obama’s triumph over republican’s in both the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling negotiations, conclusively demonstrate that Obama believes that the political winds continue to favor him.

    Your understandable anger at the duplicity and betrayal of American leftists and the consequences that the public’s support shall lead to is clearly leading to your expressed frustration.

    Fallows is merely hopeful that Obama really is a committed ideologue, which given the political realities of a first term, many on the left had begun to question and that he will greatly advance the left’s agenda after all.

    We know Obama is an ideologue but from the unrealistic POV of many leftists, who want immediate gratification, their frustration that Obama wasn’t accomplishing enough, soon enough led to a lessening of support.

    Fallow is arguing that what it ‘alters’ is the argument that Obama is not a committed leftist.

    He’s rallying the troops.

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    Prior to Obama’s reelection there was plenty of dissatisfaction with Obama’s perceived ineffectiveness at greatly advancing the various faction’s on the left’s agendas. Environmentalists, immigration reform, women rights, gun control, gay rights…

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain: you write that Fallows is not assuming we are dumb. Right after that you write, “He doesn’t care that we know what is going on, only that a majority of American’s don’t and continue to drink the left’s kool-aid.”

    Isn’t that contradictory? The “we” that I was referring to was not “we” on this blog, or “we” on the right, but “we” the great American public. He is assuming that that “we” is dumb, as you yourself write, “a majority of Americans don’t [know what’s going on] and continue to drink the left’s kool-aid.”

    So, as I said, he’s pretending to be dumb, and assuming we are.

    He is also somewhat surprised at Obama’s coming out of the closet and revealing himself to be progressive rather than moderate. This, also, should not have surprised him at this point. Thus: dumb.

    I realize he’s rallying the troops.

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I have no idea whether Fallows is a leftist pretending to be dumb or a liberal, who in his useful idiocy is dumb.

    But IMO, pragmatically, it’s a false distinction. The reality is that those on the right who see the truth of the matter have been unable to awaken the majority of Americans who are drinking the left’s kool-aid. Fallows is speaking past those who see and addressing those who do not. It’s a successful, long established strategy on the left.

    The reality is that, politically, there are now two Americas, there is no ‘we’ of whom you speak. One side knows the truth but lacks the leverage to either enact positive change or keep the situation from deteriorating further. The other side consists of a minority of traitors determined to “fundamentally transform” America and the useful idiot majority, who have drunk the kool-aid.

    I don’t perceive Fallows so much as being surprised but rather as relieved. Or at least, that’s the view he seeks to persuade others of, as reassurance.

  7. expat Says:

    I liked the phrase “doing what he cares about.” Obama is humming as he repapers the bedroom while the basmeent is flooding, the roof is leaking, and the pipes have burst. There are those of us who believe the president should be more than decorator in chief.

  8. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    I didn’t watch the speech nor have I read the text. What little I know I have gleaned from reading about the speeech on the net. From that tiny bit of information it seems to me that the speech resembled a coach’s pep talk to his team between halves. It was a call to go out and do those things that weren’t acccomplished in the first half. (term)

    To Obama and his acolytes the country looks like the pre civil rights legislation era or even earlier. Injustice and unfairness are everywhere. He and his party are the ones who will set this all right. The high and mighty will be brought down, the evil polluters will be vanquished, etc.

    Fallows is one of the team and is possibly surprised but very pleased that the coach is urging them on to win the game.

  9. Otiose Says:

    neo: It’s not clear to me but it sounds like Fallows is surprised that Obama is being open (in his speech) about his turn to the left not that he’s turning to the left.

  10. parker Says:

    Otiose says, “And the timing is bad luck in that as Barone points out in a recent column we may be close to major shift to one side or the other of that divide. Obama is holding a very hot potato for the next four years, pushing some bad policies (not anything like Reagan in this) that can’t end well. In other words he’s nicely positioned to get the blame (justifiably IMO).”

    My thoughts are moving in this direction. His policies are divorced from reality, especially in terms of their impact on the economy. Plus, he’s over reaching in the belief that he has a ‘mandate’. BHO is our present day transgender Evita Peron.

  11. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Coming in late from work.
    Did something happen today I should care about?

  12. KLSmith Says:

    Good points by all. That said, liberals are inherently “dumb” or they wouldn’t believe what they believe. Smart stupid people or stupid smart people, either way.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    Otiose: I agree that he’s surprised Obama’s being open about it.

    My point is, though, why is Fallows surprised? As I wrote over 2 years ago, after re-election Obama would be “unleashed to do whatever it is he really wants. And does anyone think that would look moderate at all?” So why would he hide it any more? No need to. As a commenter on another blog (I think at Ace’s) wrote, that mask was getting mighty uncomfortable. No need to wear it any more.

  14. parker Says:

    I do not believe Fallow is surprised. He’s playing to an audience hypnotized by the messiah. We on the right are living in pockets of sanity surrounded by Jonestown. Whatever you do, do not drink from the cup.

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain: I agree that it’s a false distinction. And yet it interests me. As I wrote:

    “Perhaps it’s a meaningless question, because it actually doesn’t matter in practical terms. But since I’m interested in what makes people tick, I still ask it.”

    I think it’s also important to know the strategies of the left. Or is it tactics? Perhaps both.

  16. Paul in Boston Says:

    Isn’t Fallows the guy who wrote an article about the wonders of an Obama speech but it was accidently published a week before the speech was given?

  17. neo-neocon Says:

    Paul in Boston: well then, I guess that speech didn’t surprise him. 🙂

    Actually, I think you may be referring to Lewis Lapham, the time-traveler.

  18. Paul in Boston Says:

    Yep, got Fallows and Lapham mixed up.

  19. Mac Says:

    Fallows says “this speech made news and alters politics” (my emphasis).

    “Alters politics”?!? Fallows is clearly a bright guy, but I wrote him off entirely as a rational commentator on politics a few years ago when he pronounced the Republicans “objectively nihilistic” for opposing various Democratic initiatives. That’s really sort of astonishing. Does he think it’s objectively nihilistic for Democrats to seek to thwart Republicans? He could only have said such a thing if he’s utterly blind to the possibility of rational good-faith disagreement with the Democrats. A common syndrome, of course, as we all know, but Fallows ought to be a bit more conscious.

  20. neo-neocon Says:

    Mac: you know, I have mixed feelings about Fallows. I do admire him as was one of the very few journalists willing to even question the Mohammed al Durah story way back in June of 2003. That took courage. He didn’t go far enough; but still, he went further than any other mainstream American journalist at the time, to the best of my recollection.

    If you don’t recall the al Durah controversy, see this.

  21. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    neo @ 7:00pm,

    What makes the left tick isn’t that difficult to ascertain. Power, status, narcissistic self-regard, a sense of inclusion and unrealistic idealism covers much of it. Cognitive dissonance and egotism, the rest of it.

    Strategy involves what is desired. Tactics involves how the goal desired is to be achieved.

    Naively idealistic, gullible liberals are the unwitting political shock troops of the mendacious left. Those on the left are composed of the true believers and the truly cynical, who seek power solely for personal gain.

    Whether an individual is merely gullible and misguided or intentionally mendacious is, in regards to the larger struggle, irrelevant.

    As per; the Nazi SS were consciously evil, the average German soldier merely following orders out of loyalty to his society. For liberty to survive both had to be neutralized.

    The only remaining question is whether the American public will through stupidity, greed and apathy, forge the chains of their own oppression so fully as to negate “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

    If they do so, there will be no other recourse but first to attempt secession, as “in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another” and, when that is denied as it surely will, revolution.

    In which case, we target the leadership, repeatedly and with prejudice.

    “So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” George Orwell

    “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind” from the Old Testament Book of Hosea

  22. Otiose Says:

    GB, I really like that quote on fire and the left-wing from George Orwell.


    Perhaps getting off topic a bit, but someone above mentioned they stopped reading Fallows a few years ago and I’m the same and pretty much for the same reasons.

    Is it better to face Obama with pretense or without? I would say without.

    I never thought for a moment he was a moderate no matter his pretense, but there are many who did get taken in both the first election and for this second – of course many voted for him BECAUSE they think he’s far to the left.

    I’m thinking of someone I know who confessed they voted for him again, because they think he cares more / understands them more blah blah plus they like the idea of becoming more like Europe.

    This latter idea only has appeal if you’re part of the group who thinks that they’re on the mend vs just pausing before further slip sliding down and away.

    Anyway, I’m delighted that he can’t help showing his true beliefs and that he can’t help demonizing anyone who opposes him.

    FDR was very effective for many reasons, but one in particular was an ability to sit down face to face and convince just about anyone that he was on their side. I don’t believe Obama can do that. Obama does not naturally smooze with people – anybody it seems, but for sure not someone who he perceives as disagreeing with his worldview.

    If he was more capable of pretense and more like FDR/Reagan etc, he would be having dinner with key Republicans convincing them he’s a moderate and before long he would peel off enough to get much of his legislative goals / appointments thru Congress.

    That ain’t a gonna happen with this guy. He is full of righteousness and doesn’t think he needs to worry about fooling people anymore. It will be his undoing politically.

  23. thomass Says:

    Hmmm; a cattle ranch in Uruguay is looking pretty good right now.

  24. thomass Says:

    Otiose Says:
    “It’s not clear to me but it sounds like Fallows is surprised that Obama is being open (in his speech) about his turn to the left”

    I guess he is thinking that if Obama is throwing it out in the open it is now within the scope of permitted party approved discussion… so he can write about it….

  25. KLSmith Says:

    Otiose: O doesn’t need to court Republicans. They’re already willing to fold like cheap tents in the wind. And Boehner has decided to not fight in the house – he only needs 40 or so RINO’s to vote with the Dems.

  26. Tim Says:

    Amen sister. He’s going balls out.

  27. Otiose Says:

    Obama is a leftist without a doubt. But if he hides it he will split the Republicans and unite the Democrats. If he doesn’t he will split the Democrats and unite the Republicans.

    I think he very much needs to court Republicans. I agree they’re in retreat, but they’re searching successfully for points/areas of agreement and deciding about when and where to take stands. The new focus on for now avoiding a direct meltdown financially while the spotlight is put on the fact the Senate has been voting present on all budget issues is a wise one and will likely payoff.

    Let’s give time to Obama to show more of his hubris to those moderate middle who really don’t understand what they’ve voted back into office.

    I’m optimistic in outlook, but the fact he’s been reelected guarantees we are going to experience some very difficult times. This can’t be helped. All we can do is position ourselves to pick up the pieces and try to minimize damage. By position ourselves in part I mean make sure it’s clear we have reasoned support for our disagreements i.e. unemotional.

    Also, maybe I’m optimistic here but keep in mind that Obama is not a constructive personality. He votes present. He’s not good at taking the initiative. The Obamacare wasn’t constructed by him, but pulled together by a committee. Let him make some moves, or better lead from behind. We want him to overreach, or fail to restrain his far left minions, and he will create resistance far more effectively than blind refusals to cooperate with everything he tries to do.

    I think Boehner is playing the hand he’s been dealt very effectively. After Pearl Harbor Guadalcanal didn’t happen overnight. This country has survived far worse than Obama and it will survive him too.

  28. beverly Says:

    Lewis Lapham (ugh) and his fiction about “attending” the RNC reminds me of something I saw first-hand.

    I went to the 2004 RNC in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The despicable Michael Moore was in the press gallery for a grand total of 20 minutes, during McCain’s speech, and surrounded by nearly a dozen bodyguards (he childishly held up his hand in an “L” for Loser sign during the speech, which McCain saw). Then he left the arena, surrounded by his phalanx of armed guards.

    The next day, the papers printed his “account” of how he’d gotten down on the convention floor and mingled with hoi polloi, complete with “quotes” from the hicks.

    All lies. This kind of bilge is far more common than most folks realize.

    Years ago, my bro-in-law was doing PR for the Saudis out of D.C. The Saudis wanted the firm to drop an “op-ed” into Newsweek in support of the AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia. They found an American businessman working in the KSA who would be willing to sign an “editorial” as his own; then the PR mavens went to a resort for the weekend to craft it.

    It was published in Newsweek as a “My Turn” article, signed by, and presented as written by, this businessman. All bilge.

  29. beverly Says:

    The “My Turn” column wasn’t identified by Newsweek as an advertorial, it’s supposed to be letters from readers who are prominent in some way, and supposed to be genuine. Did they know it was a PR plant? Yes. The firm arranged for its insertion.

    They all golf together, too. Etc., etc.

  30. blert Says:


    At a certain remove, Fallows does not feel like Barry has been governing from the Left — yet.

    He fundamentally believes that true Leftist executive orders have been held in abeyance, a l l t h i s t i m e.

    That’s the foundation for his composition.

    “Forward, to the ramparts!” Could be his title.

    He is a true believer.

  31. KLSmith Says:

    Otiose: we need optimists. carry on!

  32. Ymarsakar Says:

    It’s sort of like the cult believer that is surprised when he realizes the cult leader is crazy and has no idea what he is talking about. Maybe this won’t happen until t minus 1 second on the mass suicide event, but still.

  33. Bob from Virginia Says:

    Did anyone notice he used the phrase “peace in our time”. If anyone wants to understand the depth of the Dear Leader’s knowledge history and foreign affairs they need look no further.

    Or maybe he does know and wants to do a Czechoslovakia on Israel?

  34. Mac Says:

    Neo, I didn’t recognize Mohammed al Durah’s name, but as soon as I saw the picture at Wikipedia I remembered the incident. It is to Fallows’ credit that he questioned the story. And I have no reason to think that his extensive reporting from and about China is flawed. But like most liberals nowadays he seems a bit unglued when it comes to domestic politics.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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