National Commentary

The President Becomes a Prophet

nfbenton-mugA big part of the conundrum that is Washington, D.C. is the existence of two core parallel realities, and some tangential ones, that everyone has to deal with. One is in the realm of values, the other in the realm of noses – counting them, that is.

On the latter score, of course political parties and all the jockeying to win elections and the struggles between the Reds and the Blues is the essential component.

But while people say it always comes down to those noses in the Congress, or wherever, but that is only partly true, and less true than most folks think, as President Obama has been demonstrating since the November mid-terms.

The alternate reality – the domain of values – is ultimately far more important, and while this is recognized by the political machine that serves the nation’s ruling class, it is not always well understood by others.

That’s right, it is the ruling class that better appreciates the importance of values and culture, at least until recently, by relentlessly churning out such drivel as to misguide the masses to act against their own self-interests.

But the good news for all us non-ruling class folks is that President Obama has begun to catch on, and fast, as reflected in his recent State of the Union address and now in remarks attending the release of his annual budget this Monday.

The president was full of idealism and values when he ran for the job – to a degree, both times – but being a candidate is more like being a prophetic voice, while once elected, holding an office is more like being a high priest. I’ve always held that about Obama – that when his backers became disillusioned once he was in office, after the first few months, it was not because he’d betrayed his values or theirs, but because the nature of his role in society fundamentally changed.

He could no longer stand off like an Old Testament prophet and rail against the injustices of man.

He had to go to work in the trenches of government bureaucracies and do hand to hand combat with his enemies in ways that most people could never really see. So he began to look less dramatic and more pragmatic.

It is worth noting in this context the riveting documentary film, “The Fog of War, Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2004. The film is little more than a well-edited interview with McNamara himself.

He was Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and was generally held responsible in the public’s eye for the escalation of the Vietnam War, which was also known infamously as “McNamara’s War,” and when he left his post in 1967, he was roundly hated by the growing legions of anti-war Americans who eventually brought the war to an end.

But in “The Fog of War,” one gets a much different picture of McNamara, as the man who stood between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their much more aggressive designs for the war, including effectively declaring all out war on China. From McNamara’ s perspective, he was the man tasked with containing the war, not causing it.

So, a lot of what happens in the day-to-day conduct of national governing is behind the scenes, such that the public often can only speculate, and assume either the best or the worst, depending.

Now, Obama’s delineated roles for the prophet and the high priest have been overturned since November.

The language chosen for his new values offensive is built around the concept of “middle class economics.” It’s a clever phrase, because while sounding pragmatic, what resonates from it is “middle class,” and what is also heard in the mind if not spoken in word is “ruling class.”
So the value metric of the post-midterms Obama is the contrast between those notions – not Democrat versus Republican, or partisan versus bi-partisan – but “middle class versus ruling class.”

Behold, insofar as that sets the 99 percent against the one percent, no wonder his popularity has begun to soar.