What do you do if you’re a passionate, committed follower of a political figure–Barack Obama–who has become, by almost every objective metric, a failure? If you’re George Packer, you revert to your middle school years and call the president’s critics names.
The most recent exhibit of this can be found in Packer’s semi-regular thoughts posted at The New Yorker, where Packer writes this:
In the past, Obama has always tried to reason with nihilism, to say, “You can’t really think that. Let’s find a way to compromise.” That’s his deepest instinct, and some version of it will resurface before long. He hates to draw bright lines and emphasize stark contrasts. But for now, he’s decided to take nihilism on directly (“Pass it right away”), hoping that the public will see the difference and choose sides.
Republicans, you see, aren’t simply wrong or misguided; they’re “nihilists.” This is silliness on stilts. Whatever you think of Messrs. Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy, Ryan, McConnell, Kyl, Alexander, Thune, and other Republicans, they are not nihilists. And the plan passed by the GOP House in April and the jobs plan (see here and here) proposed by the GOP House in the spring are governing blueprints, not something that emerged out of a novel by Turgenev.
No matter; in the world inhabited by Packer, facts that are inconvenient need to be dismissed — less for cynical reasons, perhaps, than psychological ones. What I mean by this is that for Packer to acknowledge the manifold and manifest failures of President Obama would blow his circuits. It would simply not compute. Obama cannot fail because he cannot fail; any evidence to the contrary is hermetically sealed off.
And since Packer cannot defend the Obama record – it is almost literally indefensible at this juncture– Packer and liberals like him are reduced to calling their opponents names –nihilists, terrorists, suicide bombers, hostage takers, the Hezbollah wing of the GOP, inciters to violence, evil, sons of bitches who need to be taken out, racists, and people who want to hang blacks from trees. They are the modern-day equivalent of Hitler, of Stalin, and of Mussolini. And so forth and so on. This is what a desperate ideological movement, in the midst of a crack up, does. It resorts not simply to ad hominem attacks, but to comical rhetorical excess.
These tactics won’t work any more than they did during the run-up to the 2010 mid-terms elections, when Democrats, thanks in large part to Obama, were on the receiving end of a crushing political rebuke. In fact, this mindset will merely set back liberalism, which desperately needs a few intellectually honest figures to analyze, in a detached and objective manner, what accounts for its failures. But if those individuals are to emerge, they will appear in places and pages
other than The New Yorker.
Like many of his colleagues, Packer looks to be an individual who became a True Believer and, in the process, became a courtier for the president. He’s now suffering from a form of cognitive dissonance – watching a presidency decay that he believes simply cannot decay. The effect of reality colliding with ideology isn’t pretty. Like the main character in Fathers and Sons, life has introduced a level of despair Packer doesn’t appear quite able to deal with. Unfortunately for Packer, as the Obama presidency is shattered by events, he is using his perch at the New Yorker to write things that will, on calm reflection, embarrass him and his magazine.