|10-22-2012, 08:30 AM|
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The unreality of the past four years
In the 1967 film "A Guide for the Married Man," a husband, played by a peerless Walter Matthau, is given lessons in ways to cheat on his wife safely. The most essential rule: "Deny! Deny! Deny!"—no matter what. In an instructive scene, he's shown a wife undone by shock, and screaming, with reason: She has just walked in on her husband making love to a glamorous stranger.
"What are you doing," she wails, "who is that woman?"
"What woman, where?" the husband serenely counters, as he and the tart in question get out of bed and calmly dress.
So the scene proceeds, with the distraught wife pointing to the woman she clearly sees before her, while her husband, unruffled, continues to look blankly at her, asking, "What woman?" Confused by her spouse's unblinking assurance, she gives up. Two minutes later she's asking him what he'd like for dinner.
For much of the past four years, the Obama administration's propensity for asserting views of reality wildly at odds with those evident to most rational citizens has looked increasingly like a page from that film script.
All administrations conceal, falsify and tell lies—this is understood—but there's no missing the distinctive quality of the prevaricating issuing from the White House in these four years.
It's a quality on vivid display now in the administration's mesmerizing narrative of the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Here's a memorable picture, its detail brutally illuminating, of Obama and company in crisis mode over their conflicting stories about who knew what when. The resulting costs to truth-telling and sanity, or even the appearance thereof, are clear. Nor can we forget the strong element of farce—think U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on those five Sunday talk shows, reciting with unflagging fervor that official talking point regarding mob violence and a YouTube video. Farce, but no one is laughing.
Team Obama clung to its original story—the attack had come spontaneously at the hands of a mob enraged by that now famous video insulting to the Prophet—long after it was clear that it had been an organized terrorist assault by an al Qaeda affiliate. By Tuesday's debate, we saw a Barack Obama in high dudgeon over suggestions that his office might have deliberately misrepresented the facts. It was, he fumed, an intolerable insult that such charges could have been made about him, the president who had had to receive the bodies of the slain Americans—and who then had to set about getting to the bottom of this murderous terror assault.
Profound and urgent concerns indeed—which, the president neglected to say, had not prevented him from jetting off to his fundraiser in Las Vegas the day after the murders. His administration was not given to politicizing serious matters, the president sternly informed the nation in that second debate: "That's not what we do."
Good to know. Americans might otherwise have gotten the wrong impression in the past four years, not least from Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the most openly politicized Justice Department in the nation's history. Among his more recent noteworthy pronouncements, this one relevant to the coming election, Mr. Holder declared that photo ID requirements intended to prevent voting fraud were nothing less than a "poll tax." He was referring to an infamous institution from the days of Jim Crow, whose aim was to suppress black voting. Mr. Holder—so famously fastidious about group sensibilities that he has never been able to bring himself to utter any description identifying a terrorist as Muslim—has apparently had no inhibitions about smearing whole segments of the population as racists.
Mr. Obama's outrage notwithstanding, the administration's prolonged efforts to muddle the picture of the Benghazi attack raised proper suspicions. The Obama team's instant response—that Republicans were attempting to politicize a tragedy—was entirely characteristic. If ever a story screamed its politicized nature, it was the administration's Scheherazade-like tale, now five weeks old and rolling on, about that Sept. 11 assault. A tale that left little doubt of its motivation: fear of the impact, so close to the election, of a successful terrorist attack—the clear indication that al Qaeda was not, as claimed, on the run.
It didn't hurt, of course, that a crude video like the one insulting to Islam is exactly the kind of fodder to which the Obama ministry is partial: Here was an opportunity for right-minded condemnation of bigotry, and if that bigotry was directed at Muslims, all the more opportune. It would be hard to say which member of the Obama administration most invoked the power and influence of that bit of film, officially to be known, now and forever, as the disgusting and reprehensible video.
More and more clearly, the Obama administration has put its faith in the view that the governed, who must be told what is best for their lives, whether they want it or not (see ObamaCare), can also be told that they have not seen what they've seen, have not heard what their ears clearly told them. When the "if you've got a business, you didn't build that" speech proved to be a political land mine, team Obama instantly charged malicious, out-of-context distortion. The president was only talking about—infrastructure! About government-built roads vital for businesses, transportation, etc.
It isn't likely that Americans who had heard the Obama address failed to understand, rightly, its sneering tone directed at those who believed they had a right to think they were responsible for their own success. Not likely that they didn't notice the icy thrust of those words, "I'm always struck by people who feel, 'Well, it must be because I'm just so smart.'" The president had revealed, with unforgettable clarity, his contempt for faith in individual enterprise—a value Americans of every station hold dear. So clear was this contempt, the Republicans knew enough to make it the Day One theme of their convention—the only good day. Democratic Party representatives meanwhile went forward en masse to charge the Republicans with dishonesty.
In the books yet to be written about this presidency, the Obama administration's exceptional readings of reality will deserve an honored place, and a large one. One that should also acknowledge the fact that, in the end, the American people inevitably recognize the difference between lies and truth, illusion and the real thing.
The most telling example of this capacity—the October surprise that shouldn't have been surprising—came with the first presidential debate. The nation saw a superbly cogent Mitt Romney, speaking to them in terms instantly recognizable, words without artifice that addressed their real lives. Viewers saw the life in him, the play of mind, felt the sense of powerful will—that of a leader. It didn't matter all that much that the president looked most unpresidential, a man lost. What mattered was the other man before them, who had brought home to Americans what they had been missing the past four years.
Not surprisingly, when the debate's effects were clear, Obama squads were again deployed to cry fraud. Mr. Romney, we were told, had done nothing but lie. This would now be the official story. It would have no effect. People had seen what they had seen and that would not be changed, not by an improved, fighting Obama as he was last Tuesday, or by a heroically transformed one on Monday night.
Ms. Rabinowitz is a member of the Journal's editorial board.