Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Nearly fifty years ago, Ayn Rand made the following connection between the philosophical ideas one holds (often, implicitly) and the emotions one feels:
Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body is an automatic indicator of his body's welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death -- so the emotional mechanism of man's consciousness is geared to perform the same function, as a barometer that registers the same alternative by means of two basic emotions: joy or suffering. Emotions are the automatic results of man's value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man's values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him -- lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss.And Sunday, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe asked of Barack Obama:
[S]ince the work of man's mind is not automatic, his values, like all his premises, are the product either of his thinking or of his evasions: man chooses his values by a conscious process of thought -- or accepts them by default, by subconscious associations, on faith, on someone's authority, by some form of social osmosis or blind imitation. Emotions are produced by man's premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly. [minor format edits]
[T]he presidency is no walk in the park. Americans know that, just as they know you've had a lot on your plate: a gasping economy, Afghanistan, the oil spill, North Korea -- not to mention an approval rating that keeps dropping. But Americans also know that every president faces tremendous trials. Look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Not only did he have the Great Depression, Adolf Hitler, and Pearl Harbor to deal with, he was paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. Yet he was legendary for his ebullient good humor. All the troubles in the world couldn’t deprive FDR of what his biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin called his "remarkable capacity to transmit this cheerful strength to others."Before concluding with his very different impression of President Obama, Jacoby further quotes President Kennedy on the emotional rewards -- yes, rewards -- of his job. "It is full use of your powers along lines of excellence. I find, therefore, the presidency provides some happiness."
Will anyone ever say that about you? [format edits, emphasis mine]
By contrast, you come across too often as irritable and self-pitying. It's not attractive, and it's not winning you the admiration of the American people. Lighten up, Mr. President. You've got the job of a lifetime. Enjoy it.Jacoby has stumbled on something more profound, probably, than he realizes, and this could well nail Obama's coffin shut among voters with a healthy sense of life.
But what, exactly, is it? It is perhaps most instructive to consider the fact that the other two Presidents mentioned above, like Obama, favored more state control of the economy than there had been before and were professed altruists. However, Obama is the most consistent collectivist of the three, and alone among them distinctly lacks fire in the belly when it comes to protecting American interests worldwide.
While FDR fought the Depression (albeit ineffectively) and waged a two-front war, he worked to inspire the American people. There was doubtless the sense that things were terrible, but that such a state of affairs was unacceptable and, more important, abnormal: We could -- and would -- do something about it.
Obama, on the other hand, tells us that America's days as the preeminent world power are over and that the economy won't improve any time soon. The first would be complete bunk if his policies regarding the economy were not so horrendous; and there's no possible way for him to attempt to raise morale regarding the second: If the state "has to" bail us out, the implicit judgment is that we're all essentially helpless in the face of this crisis.
It is this last observation that is key to understanding our irritable, self-pitying President. He is, by far, the most consistent altruist and collectivist we have ever had as President. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this consistency includes -- not just as an abstract notion or inconsistently in any way, but on an emotional and "soul-felt" level -- the malevolent universe premise that Rand identified as the basis for altruism.
Were Jeff Jacoby an Objectivist, I wonder whether he would have identified Barack Obama as the first "American" President to lack any vestige of an American sense of life. (Scroll down to -- or search -- "A nation’s sense of life".)