New frontiers in hackery
James Taranto uses an article about President Obama calming a baby in a San Francisco airport as an opportunity to try out a truly tortured metaphor. In a WSJ piece called “Sitter in Chief,” Taranto writes:
Obama explicitly rejects the American ethos of self-reliance. He sees dependence on government not as an evil, if sometimes a necessary one, but as a goal to be pursued. It reminded us of Peggy Noonan‘s observation last week that there’s something not fully adult about the president himself: “Sorry to do archetypes, but a nation in trouble probably wants a fatherly, or motherly, figure at the top. What America has right now is a bright, lost older brother. It misses Dad.”
Perhaps Obama is eager to infantilize Americans precisely because he is not a fatherly figure–a man of unquestioned wisdom and maturity. A strong father continues to command his children’s respect even as they too reach adulthood. As Mark Twain observed, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” The “bright, lost older brother,” by contrast, can command the respect only of young children.
At first I was a little confused, but then I realized the genius of Taranto and Noonan. They take conservative cognitive dissonance to new heights. Obama is babying the American people, because he is believes in big government as an ends in itself. He is a paternalist with far too much control over the American people. He is, Taranto says, “the most powerful man in the world.” But conservatives can never just complain about Obama’s power grabs and strong-handing, because they don’t like to think of themselves as weaker than him. They must always balance this with calling the president weak, inexperienced, childish. Obama has his strains of authoritarianism in his embrace of the nanny state, but he is only a source of weak authority. He is not the country’s father, he is the country’s older brother.
Americans are adults who can rely on themselves, says Taranto. But wait – maybe what America needs is a fatherly figure, “a man of unquestioned wisdom and maturity,” and not this “bright, lost older brother.” What America needs is a strong leader, not the naive, inexperience one we have now. Unless, of course, we need to rely on ourselves, and not the dictator we have now, the one who wants to provide Americans with health care, student loans, and clean air. Americans are adults who can rely on themselves, except for those Americans who approve of Obama – at latest count, 43% of the country – since, Taranto tells us, the bright older brother figure “can command the respect only of young children.”
Obama is babying the country, but “a nation in trouble probably wants a fatherly, or motherly, figure at the top” (Noonan’s words). Presumably, the nation is looking for a father or mother who denies them health care coverage, refuses to help them pay for college, and allows them to drink polluted water. Hey, it’s not the parenting strategy that my parents decided on, but it could work.