September 18th, 2013

They may be seeing Obama’s feet of clay—but then what?

Maureen Dowd has become disillusioned with President Obama in this, his second term. To her, he’s so much less admirable than Candidate Obama was, or even than President Obama was in his first term.

It’s probably correct to conclude that Dowd stands for millions of other liberals similarly let down. But don’t get too excited—I’d wager that neither Dowd nor the rest are considering a leap to conservatism, or even to taking conservatives or Republicans seriously as alternatives to Democrats. And this despite the fact that many erstwhile Obama supporters acknowledge (as Dowd does) that Obama seems weak and vacillating, less charming and articulate than before, unwilling to schmooze with or reach out to Democrats in Congress to push his agenda, aloof and just plain “weird.”

All those are things that were already at least somewhat apparent during the 2008 campaign, and which became even more apparent during Obama’s first term. They are characteristics that much of the right detected in Obama from the start—and that was just the tip of the iceberg of the problems they saw.

Now many liberals and leftists have also noticed. But in the immortal words of Hillary Clinton in another context, what difference will it make? Dowd and company (and most of my friends, I’d wager) will merely say that Obama has lost steam and changed from the wonderful person he used to be. The vast majority are highly unlikely to believe that their judgment was impaired in their original assessment, and/or that Obama was and still is deceptive or manipulative. They will not question their basic political belief system, which will remain intact, or try to see the enemy (Republicans, that is) in a new light. They will support Obama as best they can, halfheartedly and despite their disappointment, and then turn to the next liberal candidate (perhaps her initials are HRC) and trust the mainstream media to guide them as before.

One of the things that explains this is the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. I’ve mentioned it in the past (here, for example), but it cannot be emphasized enough:

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel “disequilibrium”: frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc…

Dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one’s belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others.

I’ve written extensively about the phenomenon of political change. But that can obscure the fact that political change is rare, even when people are confronted with dissonance that should be a challenge their beliefs. It is just too painful, too threatening (too “difficult,” as expressed in the title of my series) for most people to actually change their political affiliation, despite whatever challenges their beliefs might encounter.

There are other aspects of political change that are hard. Prominent among them are the social negatives I’ve also written about many times: rejection by friends and family if one is leaving the fold, or at the very least social awkwardness and the need to avoid certain topics if peace is to be maintained. But serious and sobering though that prospect is, it pales in comparison to the more basic potential alienation: separation from the previous self and its beliefs. And so it is hardly surprising that most people will do almost anything to avoid such a rift.

35 Responses to “They may be seeing Obama’s feet of clay—but then what?”

  1. Matt_SE Says:

    Cognitive dissonance:
    The feeling you get when you suddenly realize everything you thought was true is actually a lie.

  2. Mr. Frank Says:

    But he promised them a pony.

  3. Jenn Says:

    Even and aside from the political change aspect of this, I wonder if there’s not something more at play in the recent criticism leveled at Obama. Specifically, managing expectations for the next presidential election. For instance, in looking towards the 2016 Democrat field, it could be quite challenging to run a candidate that could only ever fall short of Obama at the height of his hype. But, by critizing Obama (humanising him) now, when it will practically make no difference, they’re able to welcome on stage the next Great Savior. Obama, only better. Obama at his best with upgrades. And, to the extent that those non-rabid Democrat voters are left questioning what chance a mere mortal could possibly have when Obama wasn’t able to deliver all he promised, the answer becomes that we were deceived in Obama’s promise, but Obama 2.0 is the real deal. So buy now!

  4. carl in atlanta Says:

    ” …Tell me about the rabbit farm, George! George?”

  5. Richard Aubrey Says:

    As neo has said, much of a lib’s political viewpoint is connected with his self-identity. Can’t change one without changing the other. And since libs’ pov wrt liberalism makes them Very Good People, having to abandon it means they are abandoning an extremely important prop to their self-regard.
    Since the IPCC has admitted things are not as advertised, I think we’re going to see a miniature version of the conflict when people face the truth about AGW. Very Good People, who love the Earth and all its people believe in AGW. If even the IPCC is with the deniers, the Very Good People will have a cognitively dissonant moment. Pass the popcorn.

  6. Eric Says:

    Disillusionment on Obama is not enough. Obviously, he’s not running again, but even if he was, that still wouldn’t be enough. A vote that is for the Dems or *against the GOP* works out equally well for the Dems.

    I would wager the same folks who are disappointed with Obama still have the same BDS based on the same false narrative, consider Bush ‘the worst president ever’, and use that as their cognitive baseline to perceive the GOP generally.

  7. KLSmith Says:

    Two related articles I saw today – Michael Goodwin at
    NY Post on how Obama has reached a new low with that speech on Monday during the slaughter and Rachel Maddow reflecting on a government too big to conduct adequate security checks is a government that has grown too big.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    They think they will be forgiven for now needing to find some other Messiah to worship in order to make themselves smart?

    They really think they will be forgiven and their crimes against humanity just shoveled under the rug?


  9. Ray Says:

    With a little practice you shouldn’t be bothered by cognitive dissonance. Just take the Queen’s advice from Alice in Wonderland.

    Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
    “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

  10. Ann Says:

    I think much of the reason for Dowd’s current feeling about Obama is because of the way he mishandled the Syria crisis. She is, I think, deeply embarrassed by his performance.

    And maybe also, like the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, she was insulted by his “style points” schtick:

    Obama’s dismissive remarks came in response to a question from ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who asked the president about criticisms of his approach as ad hoc, improvised and unsteady.

    “Folks here in Washington like to grade on style,” Obama sniffed. “And so had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear, they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that, ’cause that’s exactly how they graded the Iraq war until it ended up blowing [up] in our face.”

    Indeed, Obama portrayed capital insiders’ scorn as a badge of honor. “What it says is that I’m less concerned about style points; I’m much more concerned about getting the policy right,” he continued, taking credit for Syria having acknowledged its possession of chemical weapons and agreeing to put them under international control. “That’s my goal,” he said. “And if that goal is achieved, then it sounds to me like we did something right.”

    “dismissive” and “sniffed” — Ruth’s not a happy camper.

  11. vanderleun Says:

    Here’s a long but entertaining rant from “Captain Capitalism” on how the young liberals get screwed over by the older liberals…. He’s trying to cut them off before the brainwashing has really kicked in.

  12. Rick Caird Says:


    Yes, I like Aaron Clarey, too. He tries to be realistic and I liked his suggestion to young liberals to go to FRED and look at the data.

    I was just reading some stuff on AJ Strata’s sight and he was hammering something that Walter Russel Mead has been hammering: the blue model does not work any longer. Mish had a post today about just how underfunded the Chicago pension plans are. Yet, the liberals want to tinker around the edges as the house burns down. There seems to be no way to get through to them. Neo points out it how difficult it is to change a belief system even as it crumbles.

    I don’t know what it will take for the bulk of this country to realize we are heading for collapse. There are warnings now, but not enough to penetrate. Hemingway was asked how one goes bankrupt. He said “slowly at first, than all at once”. That is what collapse looks like, too. What happens to Detroit when there is no welfare and SNAP money coming in? Even “bread and circuses” stop when the money runs out.

  13. Matt_SE Says:

    The two most common tactics for libs not feeling cognitive dissonance are:
    1) Avoidance: they simply refuse to confront contrary evidence, and instead occupy their minds with other (often trivial) matters.
    2) Projection: assuming that they acknowledge the existence of the contrary evidence, they try to blame it on someone/something other than the true cause.

    These two explain probably 60% of the left.

    For people like Dowd and Marcus, I can’t decide if they’re so angry because they were lied to, or because their side is being mocked by the oh-so-cosmopolitan elites in the rest of the world.

  14. Tater Says:

    “I don’t know what it will take for the bulk of this country to realize we are heading for collapse.”

    LOL Rick, the nation will fall into a huge pile of rubbish, and the left will never even notice. They’ll just stand around, wounder why their welfare checks dried up, and then blame Bush…


  15. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    My brother and his wife are true blue progressives. They belong to a church that is progressive. They are very proud of the fact that they have a few gay couples in the congregation. Unfortunately, the congregation just fired their minister (who was openly gay) because it turned out that he had an agenda to turn the congregation into a predominately gay congregation. He also arrogantly encouraged all church members to attend Gay Pride events to show support. Now they are somewhat confused. They just didn’t realize there might be an agenda in the gay community. A bit of cognitive dissonance for them.

    They have lived their lives by conservative principles, but just have to feel that they are helping right society’s wrongs and be Very Good People. (Thanks to Richard Aubrey for that one.) We just returned from visiting them. They are a bit disillusioned with Obama, but not with the cause of defending the downtrodden. So, they will continue to vote democrat.

  16. Matt_SE Says:

    @ Tater

    I’ve heard many people fall into this sort of cynical worldview, especially after the election.
    I don’t believe it.
    I believe evolution (God, if you’re so-inclined) has made discerning “The Truth” an imperative. It’s hard-wired into us, and can’t be easily gotten rid of. That means people have a natural resistance to propaganda based on their own senses and experience.
    The ideal situation is to have all excuses removed when the end comes. Detroit comes close to this, since a Republican hasn’t been in power there in 50 years.
    But even in less clear-cut situations, people will just get tired of excuses after a while.

    I’m reminded of the quote from an anonymous Soviet worker, “We would pretend to work, and the government would pretend to pay us.”
    This shows that whatever the party line was, the common people knew the truth…even in the Soviet Union.

  17. Ymarsakar Says:

    What people should do is smash their face in it. They’re now the racists. They’re now the people who don’t support the President. They’re now the ones who called for jingoism but doesn’t show enough Loyalty to the State.

    Ask them if their tax returns should be IRSed, why they don’t show sufficient Loyalty to the Regime.

  18. sharpie Says:

    You mean like Democrats?

  19. Judith Says:

    Maureen Dowd was hell (and very funny hell at that) on Bill & Hillary Clinton, back in the day. No, she doesn’t change her principles, assuming that’s what they are. She just gets royally p*ssed when someone embarrasses her point of view or when someone doesn’t *make* reality deliver what she believes it should.

    But, I always thought that she was basically a spoiled debutante, sulking and having tantrums upstairs and ruining her debut party just to embarrass Mom and Dad – but, no way was she ever going to actually walk away from the inheritance. No, she’s just a complainer and no one ever lives up to her expectations.

    Also: Ymarsakar @ 7:31 p.m. is on to something. Racists!

  20. expat Says:

    Did you read that Robert Gates and Leon Panetta have also criticized Obama on Syria? I think this is just the beginning.

  21. Ann Says:

    I’m afraid I have to say “in your dreams,” expat. Here’s David Ignatius in the Washington Post:

    What’s puzzling about this latest bout of Obama-phobia is that recent developments in Syria have generally been positive from the standpoint of U.S. interests.

    Obama has accomplished goals that most Americans endorse, given the unpalatable menu of choices. Polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly backs the course Obama has chosen. APost-ABC News surveyasked Americans if they endorsed the U.S.-Russian plan to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons as an alternative to missile strikes; 79 percent were supportive.

    Yet the opinion of elites is sharply negative.

    Here’s what I see when I deconstruct the Syria story:…

    He then proceeds to show, at least to his mind, just how brilliant the whole episode has been. And then:

    The mystery is why this outcome in Syria is derided by so many analysts in Washington. Partly, it must be the John McCain factor. The Arizona senator is in danger of becoming a kind of Republican version of Jesse Jackson, who shows up at every international crisis with his own plan for a solution, sometimes through personal mediation (as with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), other times demanding military intervention (as in Syria). Because McCain is a distinguished figure, he commands respect even when his proposals have no political support at home.

    Not so Obama. He can propose what the country wants, succeed at it and still get hammered as a failure.

    Cool. A Republican to blame. And one so very respected that he never, ever gets blamed for anything he proposes.

  22. Ymarsakar Says:

    What’s a failure is how Obama wasn’t able to post birth Abort dear David here when the resources of Gaia were truly strained.

  23. Matt_SE Says:


    Those are the ramblings of a fringe kook. I suppose that David decided Obama was truly “the One”; the embodiment of all his liberal fever-dreams. David won’t repudiate Obama because that would mean repudiating himself.
    Others like Dowd are worldly/cynical enough to not have personally invested themselves into the Obama cult. If he falls short, she can always say that he wasn’t “the One.”
    Personal investment (i.e. drinking the kool-aid): that’s the nature of the developing schism on the left these days.

  24. Tater Says:


    “Personal investment (i.e. drinking the kool-aid): that’s the nature of the developing schism on the left these days.”

    Which doesn’t seem to match up with your previous reply to me. I agree with your statement above, and I think it applies to the vast majority of the left. Our kind host is testimony on the difficulty (and rarity) of a left winger seeing the light. Your previous example of Detroit is an even better example, despite 50 years of left-wing government that has destroyed their city, they’re still electing nothing but Democrats.

    Kool-Aid drinkers simply can’t change.

  25. Ymarsakar Says:

    If they could change themselves for the better, they wouldn’t need to be part of the Utopian society for changing the world now would they.

    In the end, this war might as well be called “Those who change themselves” vs “those who want to change the world”.

  26. libertywolf Says:

    True, the cognitive dissonance can create an actual change of heart and mind, but it is so difficult! The thought of alienation from friends or family may be too much for most people. I just lost another good friend about three weeks ago. This, because of Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman. Suddenly, this person flips out and decides I am a “racist” because I think Zimmerman is indeed not guilty. I even linked to one of your posts on the case Neo. I do think, on reflection, that one of the things that may have been happening in this case was that the individual actually was beginning to listen to some of what I said, in response to our conversations on politics, and was a bit shaken. I think some of her cardinal beliefs about politics were being called into question and that was too much. The usual, but I was a bit surprised since she was someone who had left me because of politics before, despite my best efforts to avoid that, and she had come back. Any way… I guess I am still going through the throes of this political change, though I have become tougher and more hardened to the inevitability that some left wing friends will leave. I do think what you say Neo about the “alienation” from the prior self that believed certain things very differently, is hard to sort out. I am working on that… it is all very daunting. In my core, I am the same, but I think what happened was I saw at some point that my actual values of free speech, freedom, individual rights and so on – were not being served by left wing agendas. I also learned more about economics and that is a big one!

    Obama was one of the factors that hastened my departure from the left… while they are disillusioned I agree that most progressives will not change their tune, unless something really dire occurs. Like a currency collapse or a huge terrorist act of massive proportions… I hope these things do not happen. The situation in Detroit is a case in point of left wing economic policy failure, but most will not even look too closely. My friend, the one that just left, was given a brief glimpse of another viewpoint and chose to run away with an epithet (“racist”) on her lips. It is laughable but sad. I think most of them will do that since personally, this is really a hard transformation to go through.

  27. neo-neocon Says:


    It’s always a work in progress. For me, too.

  28. Eric Says:


    As I’ve often said here, Obama will always fall back on that whatever he does is better than Bush and Iraq. It works. The GOP needs to rehabilitate Bush’s legacy and correct the Democrats’ false narrative on the Iraq mission.

  29. Ann Says:


    About correcting false narratives, this piece over at First Things speaks to that, although not specifically with regard to foreign policy. It makes some good points, but I’m wondering who among Republicans can be a messenger who’s anywhere near Reagan’s league.

    Anyway, here’s some of the article:

    I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance and I asked them what Romney was for. This person was stuck and finally said that Romney was for cutting Social Security and for the elite. For all the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the Romney and the right-leaning Super PACs, many young people only hear conservative ideas explained (or merely condemned) by left-of-center politicians, journalists or entertainers. Often, when young people do see conservatives in their own words, it is only when those words are exceptionally embarrassing. This left-of-center socializing is constant, but right-of center political advertizing is an election year phenomenon.


    It took Reagan time to figure out the priorities of voters. It takes even longer to explain. How do you explain an agenda to people who lack context and who have been told a hundred different ways that you are the enemy? It takes time. It can’t just happen during elections. It has to be plain words and clear explanations of who will benefit and how. It will take more than thirty seconds to get any meaningful point across. The speech that launched Reagan’s political career was a thirty minute paid advertisement. It doesn’t have to be thirty minutes, but it has to be long enough to make a cogent and relevant argument to people who are not already inclined to vote for a conservative candidate, and it has to be on media that is consumed by young people who do not identify as conservative. If conservatives can produce a relevant agenda and learn to talk to people who don’t consume conservative media, liberals like Peter Beinart might be in for an unpleasant surprise. But the children of Reagan will have to repeat the Gipper’s feat of explaining a center-right populism to people who think that Republicans are exclusively the party of a selfish elite.

    That “who have been told a hundred different ways that you are the enemy” is daunting, isn’t it?

  30. Eric Says:


    Yep, the need for the GOP and the Right to undertake a serious perpetual Marxist-method activist popular movement – that’s not limited to election cycles – is another theme I’ve repeated often in comments here. Most recently with comments in this thread:

    In modern electoral politics, the Marxist (method) game is the only game in town. The Right needs to be reorganized by real Marxist-method activists.

    In Obama v McCain and Obama v Romney, it wasn’t the better candidate that won or lost. The better movement won, which was pretty easy considering the GOP and the Right don’t have a movement.

    How many of us have thoroughly refuted a Democratic talking point on an issue like Iraq only to have the same person later reiterate the same discredited talking points as though you never had the discussion? Painstaking individual corrections of the Democrats’ false narrative have an effective limit when it lacks the backdrop of a popular social trend – a real influential movement.

  31. Eric Says:


    If the solution is limited to looking for a new Reagan, then the GOP and the Right will fail.

    Movement first, then candidate.

  32. Ymarsakar Says:

    Just use youtube. It ain’t that hard. You can’t delegate it to your flacks and interns though.

  33. Ymarsakar Says:

    The problem I still see with the movement described by Eric is how they will stand up against the ATF, FBI, IRS, and everybody else that will destroy them.

    An organization needs leaders, a hierarchy, and funding. All of which will be targeted for destruction sooner or later.

    Unless Eric can come up with a defense against that, a defense the Tea Party did not try to use, a “movement” will not be allowed to exist by the Left.

  34. Eric Says:


    Get the Marxist-method activists, put them charge at the top and on the ground, give them what they need, and take off from there. They’ll figure it out. Igniting and spreading popular movements in adverse conditions is what activists do.

  35. Ymarsakar Says:

    That sounds like a more cellular system based upon individual prowess, not an organization or an extremely wide movement.

    Normally insurgents have utilized politically acceptable mainstream movements as a front, backed up by an elite few fanatics, true believers, and wet work artists behind the scenes. But the methodology of those two groups are very different. The mainstream org is huge and moves very slowly. The elite cell moves very quickly, but does not have direct access to the resources/support of the organization.

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