The Imaginary Man

I have a piece up at City Journal – my ruminations after the first debate – that I wanted to share with the Ricochet gang. It’s called “A Fantasy Election, an Imaginary Man.” Here’s the opening:

Even before his inauguration, Barack Obama was an imaginary man, the creation of his admirers. Think back to the 2008 Time magazine cover depicting him as FDR, the Newsweek cover of the same year on which he was shown casting Lincoln’s shadow, or the $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”—this in 2009, less than a year after he had taken office. It was not that Obama had done nothing to deserve these outsized comparisons and honors—it was not just that he had done nothing—it was that he seemed for all the world to be a blank screen on which such hysterical fantasies could too easily be projected, a two-dimensional paper doll just waiting to be dressed in leftist dreams.

You can read the whole thing here.

  1. Mel Foil

    I’ve come to believe that Barack Obama is not nearly as passionate (in a bad way from my perspective) as I thought he was. He’s more of a lens that focuses the passions of those around him. And when the people around him (like his wife, or his staff) get distracted, then he doesn’t know what to do. I thought his socialist passion emanated from within, but maybe not. Like any great actor, he can be very persuasive, but only when the script is persuasive. He needs writers.

  2. Matt Bartle

    Well put. Any chance of this finally seeping out of our side of the blogosphere into general knowledge? It has to at some point, right? No matter how against it the media is??

    Of course, I’ve been disappointed before. I always thought that at some point everyone would see the dishonesty of Bill Clinton, and his mistreatment of women, and he would get almost universal disapproval. But it never happened.

  3. Eeyore

    “Perhaps by Election Day, the public will have awakened from the media’s dream.”

    Sorry, Drew, but I have an equal fear that the “public” has been significantly formed by the media dreamcasters since at least the days of the so-called “lost” Tet Offensive. The media and public education, hand-in-hand, leading us all to their utopia (which will likely be far harsher than anything Sweden has ever dreamed of offering).

    There is no “awakening” for these people. They are “livin’ the dream!”

  4. dash

    I read that earlier today, and as usual, well said, young man. You know, you really should consider a writing career, you have a certain knack.

  5. The Mugwump

    I agree that the left fell in love with a mythic Obama of their own making. I have to disagree that Obama is just a garden-variety social democrat.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure what he is, but that’s the point.  After four years any of a dozen theories is still plausible.  My take is that when his allies in the media finally turn on him, the truth will finally surface.  And that truth is likely to be very dark indeed.  I’m anticipating that conservatism will pick up a few converts from the left in the manner of David Mamet, Roger Simon, and David Horowitz.   

  6. Charles Rapp

    I agree with your thesis that the publicly presented Obama is a MSM projection.

    But when Obama loses this November (I am so convinced), and the progressive policies start collapsing in January, 2013, imagine the grotesque Obama image the MSM will project. I mean, if you think W had it bad …

    Aside: Am now reading Studs Lonigan on your recommendation and am enjoying it very much. Thanks for pointing this book out.

    In turn, I recommended the book to a 65 year old Lithuanian gentlemen who grew up on Chicago’s south side. He said he didn’t have to read the book since he saw it for himself as a boy, having to clean up the Irish puke deposited in front of his parent’s home.

  7. david foster

    I imagine that many of these media people are under considerable psychological stress. The economic viability of their employers, and in many cases their entire industries, is collapsing. Their oracular status is under threat by alternative media.

    When people who have enjoyed high status are threatened by its loss, they often turn to ideologies of the Fascist type.

  8. Grendel

    Andrew Klavan:  “…it was not just that he had done nothing—it was that he seemed for all the world to be a blank screen on which such hysterical fantasies could too easily be projected, a two-dimensional paper doll just waiting to be dressed in leftist dreams.”

    Early in the 2008 Democratic primaries Obama made essentially the same point, saying that he seemed to be a blank slate upon which people projected their own hopes and dreams.  

    I didn’t realize then, but that is part of the narcissist’s art.  The remark seemed an interesting self-insight for a politician, and it rather endeared him to me.  I was ready to like him, and during the primaries it looked like one could.  I knew only his official bio, and he campaigned to the right of everyone, including John McCain.

    Quickly I realized he really was a blank slate and an empty suit, and I didn’t at all like the projected hopes and dreams of the Obama cultists, with their creepy Fascistic intensity:  dancing pre-schoolers, paramilitary teenagers doing close-order drill, and swaying Obama cultists hypnotically crooning “O-ba-a-a-m-m-m-a-a”.

  9. Joseph Eagar

    I remember when Obama seemed magical.  I voted for McCain, but I didn’t particularly mind it when Obama won.  Of course that didn’t last.  But it’s amazing when I remember how awesome he seemed shortly after the election; when I hear him speak now, it’s a chore just to listen.

  10. Essgee

    Obama, like he voted in the past, was “present” at the debates.

    It wasn’t enough–it never has been.

  11. DocJay
    Joseph Eagar: I remember when Obama seemed magical.  I voted for McCain, but I didn’t particularly mind it when Obama won.  Of course that didn’t last.  But it’s amazing when I remember how awesome he seemed shortly after the election; when I hear him speak now, it’s a chore just to listen. · 6 minutes ago

    I know many who were OK with him for multiple reasons.  All those justifications have faded now that reality has set in.

  12. DocJay


    The narcissist’s rage will be apparent next debate or two.  Watch him go postal if he’s losing further ground. 

  13. Red Feline

    Andrew: I read your article earlier this morning, and tweeted and face-booked it. I also sent it to my ideologically-challenged brother-in-law in Scotland. He, too, is still living in an old-fashioned, socialistic dream. He was at the top of the banking world in Scotland, studied economics, yet can’t seem to understand America and the free market. Adam Smith must be rolling in his grave. I look forward to receiving my brother-in-law’s splutterings.

    Obama is an empty puppet who has always gone where he has most to gain. He is a pretty face and convincing orator as long as he is using a teleprompter. This fools “the masses”, unfortunately. An empty slate, indeed!

    Who is behind him, is the question?

  14. David Nordmark

    Great article Mr. Klavan. I think very early on Obama grasped that the liberal left desperately wanted someone who would simply reflect their worldview back at them. He realized he didn’t really have to DO anything to enthral these people, he just had to allow himself to be used as a stand in for their own delusions. Actually, this is why he COULDN’T do anything. Real politics involves messy compromises and disappointing people. Doing something would necessarily mean shattering the dreams of his supporters with reality, so he never did. This worked wonderfully, until he became president. The results are what we see in the last 4 years. A man utterly unequipped to meet the challenges of the moment. This has become obvious to everyone except to the last of Obama’s most devoted and swooning admirers, namely the press. Their hysterical reaction to Obama’s debate performance is a result of them being forced to see the real Obama for the first time. He’s always been a hollow, empty suit, and now they know it too.

  15. SteveS

    I enjoyed your article Andrew as I do all of your ruminations especially your Klavan on The Culture episodes.

    I believe so many as yourself have had him pegged right from the start such as Shelby Steele’s portrait of a bound man, Thomas Sowell’s description of what a community organizer truly is in his Uncknowledge interview with Peter Robinson before the 08 election and now your insights into the public’s projections of their vision, hopes and aspirations on the seemingly blank canvas BHO and being collectively disappointed that what is mirrored back is distorted.

    I believe Dinesh Desouza and Stanley Kurtz have defined the president so well in their respective books and film. He is far from inept but is orchestrating the decline of America in not only the vision of his father but those who mentored him and became his surrogate fathers. 

    I have come to believe he will stop at nothing to be reelected and has never compromised his vision and done any number of things which would have ensured this election and will not accept defeat, as we know it,  but will return stronger and more committed in 2016 if necessary.

  16. Arahant

    I wonder if Romney will ever refer to Klavan’s One-State Solution for the MiddleEast.

  17. KC Mulville

    It  is imperative for democracy that the media be taught a lesson, namely:

    Reality can’t be manipulated.

    Elections are about perceptions, and perceptions are manipulated. But governing is about reality. When you have a record of governance, that has to trump the perceptions they manufacture.

    Perception is easy to manipulate, and on the weak-minded, it’s even easier. Candidates pay consultants millions of dollars to work giant Jedi mind-tricks over the weak-minded. All those internet clips (like the recent one where Obama supporters agreed that it was unfair that they didn’t let him use a teleprompter during the debate) all show that there are plenty of weak-minded people out there. 

    If we were left to the mercy of the weak-minded, we’d all be left to the mercy of an Emperor Palpatine, or even worse, Hayden Christiansen. 

    Those of us who have a commitment to reality have an obligation. Reality has to win. Reality has to trump perception. When you have a record, that has to trump nasty advertising and mudslinging. 

    If Obama wins, after this disastrous governance, then the world is pure perception, and we’ll need to become mythmakers full time.

  18. Ramblin

    Obama has always been an empty suit who couldn’t change a flat tire if the election depended on it.  Still, the empty suit has  some big and unfortunate accomplishments: Obamacare, stimulus spending, the UAW bailout?  He’s Santa  Claus to Julia.

  19. Bruce Caward

    This whole “blank screen onto which people project their fantasies” was sweet and funny when it was Chance the gardener.  Obama may evince enough plausibility and reasonableness for this to happen with him too to a degree, but there’s a real dark side to him under there.  You see glimpses of it in that 2007 video, in the contempt he shows so often for others (if you watch closely), in his voice when he deflects criticism by blaming others.

    I wonder if, if you knew just what to say, you couldn’t get him to crack out of character and totally lose it right there on camera during a debate.  Maybe that only happens in the movies . . . 

  20. Frederick Key

    I’m afraid this pantomime horse still has legs — anyone watching CBS news this morning was informed that the drop of .2% in the unemployment rate (by whatever legerdemain was employed, no doubt to be revised soon anyway) has turned this into the President’s race to lose again. Or so we’re told. This fight’s just getting started.

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