Tibor R. Machan
Most of the time when I hear about how President Obama lacks
the emotional disposition that most Americans would like to see him
demonstrate, I am disinclined to make much of the point. What I want
from someone in the role of the presidency is good thinking and not
Nonetheless I have been paying a bit more attention to this
criticism of the President because as I have been following his
efforts to bolster the chances of Democrats to remain in power in
Washington, DC, I have noticed that there is something amiss with how
he comes over emotionally.
As a start, Mr. Obama is always glib, as if nothing on earth
could phase him, as if it is all old hat to him, he is way ahead of
everyone. This comes through, for instance, in his repeated dismissal
of anything that members of the Tea Party complain about. And that’s
just the beginning.
One related steady emotional theme in the president’s talks is
the effort to be accommodating toward critics and enemies of America.
Indeed, the very idea that Mr. Obama would identify anyone as an enemy
of the United States of America seems off base. This is because it
looks like he is mostly interested in building bridges between us and
them, however barbaric they may be.
Mr. Obama is one of those American intellectuals who appears to
be stopped from criticizing anyone abroad because, well, this country
has had slavery and segregation and poverty so how could it justify
being critical of anyone. It shows a spirit of perpetual
self-criticism and mea culpa, attitudes that appear to dominate the
president’s conscience (and we are here talking about appearances).
There is no black and white for the man–no one, not even a vicious
terrorist and a leader of a country in which women are systematically
and barbarically oppressed, justifies for him any sort of firm moral
condemnation. Like those ever-permissive parents who always have an
excuse for what their offspring are doing, no matter how mischievous
or outright evil it manages to be, for Mr. Obama those who attack
America, actually attack innocents everywhere, just could not be all
bad, unworthy of understanding.
This mentality of turning the other cheek, no matter what,
appears to underlie the widespread distrust people have of Mr. Obama’s
emotional makeup. Emotions, although they are ultimately unreliable
guidelines to action, are pretty good clues to what system of values
someone has internalized. If one has to force oneself disapprove of
or condemn vicious conduct and people and it doesn’t arise naturally,
people who do have a sense of just how bad some others can be will
President Obama and his cheerleaders must realize that
eloquence is no substitute for emotional balance, for being in tune
emotionally with what those deserve who comport themselves
villainously. Being well spoken is not enough. One must also have a
sense of what needs to be said, have substance to communicate, a sense
of justice, if you will.
Or perhaps Mr. Obama just despises being disliked by people,
even by vicious rulers abroad. But that, too, reveals his emotional
priorities. Mr. Obama needs to open himself up to the possibility
that some people should really be hated, that they are evil and not
merely misguided, sick, or deranged.
Human life is distinctive in the world precisely because human
beings have a moral nature and they can act irresponsibly, morally
deplorably, contemptibly, as well as admirably, demonstrating moral
excellence. And while that idea has always had its detractors, the
moral skeptics, they simply cannot sustain their denial that people
are moral agents and capable of doing vile things for which they ought
to be condemned. They do not deserve sympathy but contempt.
And this is evident from the fact that the one exception to the
skeptics’ ambivalence about morality is their own utter contempt for
those who do take morality seriously. They tend to be dismissed, even
derided, as fundamentalists or moralizers, which is clearly and
paradoxically something (morally?) contemptible to the skeptics!
Moral skeptics usually are hoisted on their own petard. Their
amoral stance isn’t philosophically sustainable because human beings
are indeed moral beings, unlike the rest the members of the living
world. And one result of having a moral nature and admitting to it is
that one will openly cope with moral evil as well as moral excellent.
If one denies this, as it seems President Obama does when it comes to
America’s enemies, it will eventually stand in the way of reaching out
to ordinary people.