Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Obama? Battered wife syndrome or Stockholm syndrome?

Paul Rosenberg offers some interesting speculations about why Barack Obama gives the Republicans whatever they want, often before they demand it, then lashes out at those on the left who helped elect him President.
The problem with Obama has never been what he's portrayed it as. It's not that people are purists, turning up their noses at less-than-perfect results. It's not that they scorn any sort of compromise. It's not that they insist on "making the perfect the enemy of the good" or any of the other cliched Versailles rationalizations. The problem with Obama has always been that he won't fight for what he says he believes in. But he will at least lash out at those who are frustrated, disappointed, or angry with him, when he capitulates without a real fight. Which raises an increasingly troubling question: Is that the one thing he really believes in? Attacking those who want him to actually stand for something?

Or is it just simply a case of displacement? Republicans beat up on Obama, so he turns around and beats up on us? Last week, in "All the President's Captors" Frank Rich shrewdly noted how Republican's treatment of Obama reflects the most sophisticated strategy of hostage-takers working the psychological dynamics of Stockholm Syndrome, playing Obama like a violin:
THOSE desperate to decipher the baffling Obama presidency could do worse than consult an article titled "Understanding Stockholm Syndrome" in the online archive of The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin. It explains that hostage takers are most successful at winning a victim's loyalty if they temper their brutality with a bogus show of kindness. Soon enough, the hostage will start concentrating on his captors' "good side" and develop psychological characteristics to please them - "dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide or think."

This dynamic was acted out - yet again - in President Obama's latest and perhaps most humiliating attempt to placate his Republican captors in Washington. No sooner did he invite the G.O.P.'s Congressional leaders to a post-election White House summit meeting than they countered his hospitality with a slap - postponing the date for two weeks because of "scheduling conflicts." But they were kind enough to reschedule, and that was enough to get Obama to concentrate once more on his captors' "good side."

And so, as the big bipartisan event finally arrived last week, he handed them an unexpected gift, a freeze on federal salaries. Then he made a hostage video hailing the White House meeting as "a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together." Hardly had this staged effusion of happy talk been disseminated than we learned of Mitch McConnell's letter vowing to hold not just the president but the entire government hostage by blocking all legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts were extended for the top 2 percent of American households.

The captors will win this battle, if they haven't already by the time you read this, because Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or think.
If we want to understand Obama's hostility towards progressives, though, we need to switch reference frames from political hostage-takers to personal ones. Think wife-batterers. Anyone who's ever known a battered wife knows a similar dynamic well: the batterer always has a "good side", just like the hostage's captors do. "You don't understand, he's really sweet." "You don't understand, he really loves me." "You don't understand, he says it will be different.... And this time he means it!" "You don't understand...." "You don't understand...." "You don't understand...."

Except, of course, the only one who doesn't understand in these scenarios is always the battered wife. And the longer she spends lecturing others on their lack of understanding, the longer the battering continues. And the more she knows how fruitless her hope of change is, the more desperately she denies it.

Evidence means nothing. Or rather, it means something quite opposite to what anyone else expects. A constant transvaluation takes place: Each new beating only proves how much he needs her. All the previous beatings will have been for nought if she leaves him now. It would be unspeakably cruel for her to leave. He's too helpless. She can't be that heartless. Each beating is an act of love.

I think it's time we stop pleading with Obama to adopt better policies and stick with them. I think it's time for Democratic Clubs, County Committees and the like to start adopting resolutions calling for him to seek therapy
Obviously this is speculation, but speculation based on a great deal of close and detailed observation of Obama's behavior. And he won't like this speculation.

In my experience, people with psychological problems on the order of Battered Wife Syndrome or Stockholm Syndrome, often someone with clear problems, and claim "I don't have a problem! That person has a problem!"

Of course it might just be that Obama is in the underdog position for the first time in his life and hates to lose, so he'll give away the store to try to get an accomplishment he can pass off as winning. Or he might just have a real tin ear for the national public mood from outside the beltway.

Whatever. He damned sure isn't getting his Presidency right. He's not as bad as George Bush, but he is sure trying to get close to the guy. And the American middle class and working class is the loser in this fight.

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