Arnold Kling  

President Obama vs. the WOGs

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I am reading The Symbolic Uses of Politics by Murray Edelman, a book first published in 1964 that is of great personal significance to me, as I will explain in a later post after I finish the book. Meanwhile, I thought I would pass along a couple of chance passages. First, from p. 92,

The leader who makes no effort to identify himself with approved community symbols or roles, but whose tenure is secure, thereby greatly increases public anxiety and irrationality...

A special case...often appeared in colonial states...Here the community symbols with which the colonial administrator invests his public personality are those with which the elite identifies, and they are therefore divisive.

I am probably making a stretch, but suppose we imagine that President Obama is investing in symbols of the elite, and that the impact of this on the Tea Party is that it "greatly increases pubilc anxiety and irrationality" and is "therefore divisive." That would make President Obama the resented administrator representing a colonial power, and it would make the Tea Partiers the Wily Old Gentlemen (as I have seen the acronym WOG explicated, perhaps euphemistically) subject to his rule, who recognize and resent his condescension. Within this dramatic metaphor, do you notice any irony about President Obama's role?

Finally, on a different topic, p. 82-83:

Franklin Roosevelt showed his political acumen by identifying himself with the view that the depression was a major catastrophe, in opposition to the Hoover line that it was a temporary readjustment; he personified the enemy with the argument that acts of the Republican administration and of big business were responsible for the disaster. This dramaturgical difference between Roosevelt and Hoover was considerably more important politically than any difference in their actual attacks upon the depression. It has often been pointed out that the Hoover Administration began many of the New Deal policies. This was to be expected, for many of the same decisional premises were already present.

By denying himself an enemy and a chance to stage a battle Hoover became one of the very few presidents of recent times to fail to win reelection

Shorter version: Roosevelt aligned himself with the people, fighting the common enemy of the Depression. Hoover came across as aloof. In that sense, one could argue that President Obama is playing a role closer to that of Hoover.

By the way, Murray Edelman's own political views were far to the left, nearly Marxist.

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magilson writes:

"When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost.

All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." - HL Mencken in the Baltimore Sun (26 July 1920)

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