Obama’s Cognitive Dissonance

During a question and answer session with House Republicans on January 29, 2010, President Obama expressed his frustration with how issues get framed in American politics:

That’s why I say, if we’re going to frame these debates in ways that allow us to solve them, then we can’t start off by figuring out A, who’s to blame; B, how can we make the American people afraid of the other side? And unfortunately that’s how our politics works right now. And that’s how a lot of our discussion works. That’s how we start off – every time somebody speaks in Congress, the first thing they do, they stand up and all the talking points … it’s all tactics. It’s not solving problems. So the question is, at what point do we have a serious conversation about Medicare and its long-term liability, or a serious … conversation about Social Security, or a serious conversation about budget and debt in which we’re not simply trying to position ourselves politically? That’s what I’m committed to doing. We won’t agree all the time in getting it done, but I’m committed to doing it.

These are such high-minded words. What’s worth noting is that they come from a man who actually has done everything in his power to impede a serious conversation about Medicare and its long-term liability, to say nothing about the deficit and the debt — including unleashing a flood of misleading charges and savage accusations against the Ryan budget. Not only has the president not done anything to address our entitlement crisis; he’s slandered those who are willing to show the courage he lacks.

Bear in mind, too, that Mr. Problem Solver has made what every serious person knows is a gimmick (the so-called Buffett Rule), what the New York Times calls the “centerpiece” of his re-election campaign. He is doing everything he can to distract and divide Americans in order to keep the focus off his record and his failure to address our deep structural problems (see everything from Obama weighing in on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke matter to demanding that Mitt Romney release a dozen years of his tax returns).

I must say, it’s particularly (if unintentionally) comical to have Obama complain about those who blame others – as this splendid new RNC ad makes clear. Has any president ever blamed so many of his failures on others — whether it’s his predecessors, acts of nature, world events, news outlets, advances in technology, or just plain bad luck?

As for not making the America people afraid of the other side: how does that square with Obama’s claims that the other side (in this instance, the GOP) is comprised of members of the “Flat Earth Society” and have embraced a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism”? Or that Republicans are indifferent to the suffering of autistic and Down syndrome children? Or that Republican members of Congress are always putting “party ahead of country”?

What we’re seeing with Obama is a complicated game of what psychiatrists refer to as projection – in this case, the president projecting on himself an imaginary set of qualities that he not only doesn’t possess, but to which his actions and words are antithetical. The president seemingly cannot keep from projecting his failures onto others.

What the last three-plus years have shown us is that Obama has a remarkable capacity to avoid unsettling thoughts. In this case, Obama has the chronic habit of lecturing others about the importance of civility and intellectual seriousness even as he contributes so much to rank partisanship and intellectual dishonesty.

The president envisions himself as a statesman even though he often conducts himself like a political hack. Is it possible the president is blind to all this? Is the cognitive dissonance simply too much for him to bear? Or does he know exactly what he’s doing and just doesn’t care about his layer upon layer of hypocrisy and cynicism?

Whatever we’re dealing with, it’s not particularly comforting.