The “Okey-dokey”

You’ve all heard the famous Obama line where he’s referring to Hillary Clinton and her campaign and claiming they’re trying to put one over on everyone?

“You all know the okey-dokey, when someone’s trying to bamboozle you, when they’re trying to hoodwink you?”

More and more people are beginning to examine the Obama background and becoming convinced that perhaps the “okey-dokey” is being run out of his campaign, not others.

It comes down to life experience I guess, and the ability to spot something or someone who just isn’t quite what they seem or want to seem to be. Interestingly, it is Wretchard at The Belmont Club who, mulling over the Obama quote, is moved to lay out his three learned rules about swindlers:

I’ve had the great good fortune to have met a large number of swindlers in my life. And here are my own rules of thumb for spotting them. First. They are always just a little too nice for comfort. Second. They have always have a story to tell. Whenever you deal with them something always “comes up”. Third. They always suggest the possibility of getting a deal that is too good to be true.

A man who got took told me that “no swindler succeeds without the help of greed on your part. A man who is willing to pay fair price for something hardly ever gets fooled”. This is some of the best advice I ever heard and it is mostly true.

Obviously there are a great many people in this country who truly and desperately want to see the political process change “for the better”. And most are good people who want to see change effected for various ideological and personal reasons. But, naturally, each and every one of their reasons is different.

The genius of using terms like “hope” and “change” is to let those who clamor for them define the terms to themselves. In that way, what they expect completely satisfies their desire, even though what they expect will be different than the person next to them with the same desires. This is emotional politics at its finest.

Those using the terms to both entice and build a following then rely on glittering generalities to both grab and hold the attention of those whose support they seek.

In effect, as Wretchard notes, it is a form of “greed” – people have been primed to want “a better way”, to want to believe in “hope” and to desire “change” because they are so dissatisfied with the present condition of politics. They desparately want something different than what they see today.

Naturally, having helped build the desire, the swindler exploits it by presenting himself as the solution.

At this point, I’m sure there are a number of people who are furious with my implication that Obama is engaged in a giant swindle. But let’s be clear here, I’m defining the process as a swindle and the politician exploiting it as a swindler only because of the process. I’m not at all sure that Obama even understands he’s perpetrating a swindle, just as Andrew Ferguson, writing in The Weekly Standard, points out. But read on, because he describes the Obama process quite well:

It’s not clear that Obama himself is even aware of this. His sincerity is self-evident and is one of the qualities that draw people to him, along with those eloquent hands, the grin, that voice as smooth and rich as molasses. His speeches are theatrical events, not intellectual excursions. On his website the videos of his most acclaimed speeches have proved much more popular than the transcripts. As a candidate he fits a public that prefers the sensation of words to the words themselves. His speeches are meant to be succumbed to rather than thought about.

Emotional politics. “Hope”, “change” and the promise he can bring them (while you define them any way you wish). Words which make you feel good and right about what he promises to do. Until, as Ferguson says, you actually take the time to consider the words for what they actually mean:

The truth is that Obama’s speeches are full of engaging detail–just not policy detail. With his first book, the memoir Dreams from My Father, Obama proved he was a literary man of great skill, and he knows that the details that catch the attention are personal. So in his best speeches he offers quick, arresting portraits of individual Americans he has met in his travels. Taken together they help him execute a rhetorical pivot that only the greatest populist politicians–FDR in the 1930s, Reagan in 1980–have been able to pull off. You could call it optimistic despair. The overarching theme of Obama’s speeches, and of his campaign, is that America is a fetid sewer whose most glorious days lie just ahead, thanks to the endless ranks of pathetic losers who make it a beacon of hope to all mankind.

Here’s a partial list of the people that Obama has met lately. All of them are unhappy, and no wonder: Ashley, who grew up eating mustard sandwiches because her mother contracted cancer, lost her job, went bankrupt, and lost her health insurance; the “girl who goes to the crumbling school in Dillon”; “the mother who can’t get Medicaid to cover all the needs of her sick child”; a New Hampshire woman who “hasn’t been able to breathe since her nephew left for Iraq”; “the teacher who works another shift at Dunkin Donuts after school just to make ends meet”; a young woman in Cedar Rapids “who works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill”; “the Maytag worker who is now competing with his own teenager for a $7 an hour job at Wal-Mart.” And beyond these dim, huddled figures lies the American landscape, unbearably bleak: “shuttered factories,” “crumbling schools,” “a planet in peril.”

It’s not exactly Walt Whitman. But Obama wants us to know that the picture he paints with his pointillist precision is comprehensive: He’s leaving nothing out. He drives the point home when he concludes his litanies of despair by saying: “I have seen what America is.” In this sense Obama truly is the unity candidate. There is no white America or black America, as he says; no blue states or red states, in his famous formulation, but only the United States of America. And what unites all these people–what unites us–is our shared status as victims.

Unfortunately, this raises the question of who the victimizer is. It’s an uncomfortable question for a candidate who, having drawn such a depressing picture, wants to pivot toward the positive and upbeat and hopeful. Suddenly Obama’s gift for the identifying detail leaves him. With unaccustomed vagueness he refers to “lobbyists” and “overpaid CEOs” but never names them. It’s a world without human villains, improbably enough. Who are the agents of this despair? By whose hand has the country been brought so low? Whoever they are, they vanish in the fog of sentences like this: “We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner.” So not even politicians in power are responsible; it’s decades of bitter partisanship that has forced them into demonization, and the demonization has in turn prevented them from getting things done.

This is a murky place. Cause and effect are blurred. Bad things happen though nobody does them. Instead we face disembodied entities, ghostly apparitions. “Make no mistake about what we’re up against,” he will announce, with what sounds, for a moment, like clarity; but then he goes on to say what we’re up against: “the belief that it’s okay for lobbyists to dominate our government”; “the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as president comes from longevity in Washington”; “forces that feed the habits that prevent us from being who we are”; “the idea that it’s acceptable to do anything to win an election.”

Some agents of despair these turn out to be! A belief, a way of thinking, an idea, forces that feed habits, and decades of partisanship. He won’t even bring himself to blame Republicans.

It is a long excerpt of Ferguson’s piece but important because a couple of paragraphs later he hits on the key to Obama’s use of these generalities in his speeches, and it falls perfectly within the parameters of Wretchard’s hard-learned lesson of “how to identify a swindler”:

Leave aside the disembodied forces; forget the beliefs and ideas that no one really holds. Somebody somewhere has to be preventing Obama’s kind of health care reform, and sending kids to underfunded schools, and shipping jobs overseas to increase profits, and standing in the way of medical research, and downplaying climate change out of skepticism or general orneriness. Put them all together and it’s likely to come to a fairly high number of people: stockholders, employees, and managers of globalized companies; insurance claim adjusters, guys on oil rigs, hog farmers, pro-lifers, moms in SUVs, taxpayers who decline to float bonds for local schools, voters who pulled the lever for President Bush and are still kindly disposed toward him. People who make red states red and blue states purple. Lots and lots of people.

If Obama made this explicit, if in his speeches he dared to wrap bodies around those disembodied forces, if he began to trace effects back to the agents that cause them, then his campaign would suddenly appear to be what it is: a conventional alignment of political interests, trying to seize power from another conventional alignment of political interests–just one more version of a tussle that’s gone on since the country’s founding. His fans, it turns out, aren’t the people they’ve been waiting for; they’re just the same old people, like everybody else.

Of course he knows that if, in fact, he were to be specific, put names and faces on those who are the “problem” he becomes, as Ferguson contends, just another politician attempting to do what all politicians do, and that is attain power. And of course, they then realize that the only “hope” and “change” that will be satisfied completely is that of Barack Obama.

The point of this rather long post?

It’s time to look more deeply into the rhetoric of this man who would be President and demand more than the glittering generalities and theatrics he presently provides. It’s time to purge the emotion from his argument and make him get down to be facts and figures of his candidacy. It is time to make him define “hope” and “change” and tell us how he’ll achieve both with his presidency vs. leaving them as terms for others to define. It is time to call him on this “okey-dokey”.

First published at QandO.

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