Fearless leaders:
I had heard of the movie “Obama’s America” from two sources.  One told me it said Obama had been a “dumpster diver” after graduating from college and only cleaned up his act when he met Michelle, now his wife.  The other told me it said Obama was the anti-Christ.  That seemed enough of a difference so that I ought to see the movie to see what people were learning, and I did.  I had expected at all events to see a very hostile presentation.  Indeed it was critical.  But at the end of the day the only two points of attack were that he was supposed to be a socialist and that he was very reluctant to extend American power; he was an anti imperialist.

Most of the countries that I would find livable in the absence of substantial wealth tend to be socialist.  I am not a socialist, nor in fact do I have a political agenda at all; I’m not telling you how to vote.  But it seems to me that socialism is at least within the realm of what can be discussed.  And as for being anti imperialist, that certainly is something one can discuss.  So I came away with the felling that I had not been negatively influenced by the movie. 

Certainly I have heard worse things said: that he accepts a lot of money from big companies including at least one corporate raider, that he has not been diligent in pursuing businessmen implicated in misbehavior that contributed to our economic downturn and that on his watch banks “too big to fail” have grown.  Perhaps the worst was an attack by Ralph Nadir who says he is a man of no principle, changing with the vagaries of the political wind. 

That rang a bell for me.  I beg to be forgiven for talking about members of a group to which I do not belong, so this is only a suggestion.  And if I might compound my temerity by going back to the bad old days I shall recount a story from the days of chattel slavery.  There was a landowner who found that the child of one of his servants had told a lie.  He confronted the boy and extracted a confession.  He told the boy’s mother in the expectation that she would scold him for lying.  Later he was riding about his property and he noticed the mother spanking her son and yelling.  He reflected that a child is often confronted with conflicting needs and occasionally compromising the truth is pretty much to be expected from time to time, so he rode up – it happened to be from a direction she was not looking – expecting to encourage a less severe approach.  As he did so he heard what she was saying, “If you tell a lie, stick with it.”  Whack!  “If you tell a lie, stick with it.”  Whack!  All right, a tale from long ago filtered by many people and perhaps based on nothing at all. 

But compare that with a story from happier times.  I took a course in directing.  The professor was a Black woman whom I admired immensely.  I particularly remember one little lesson.  “A director should have integrity.  Now there are a lot of books written about integrity, but for the purposes of this course, this is what integrity is: If you say something, you don’t change it.”  I have never heard that sentiment from any of my European derived friends.  But if it is indeed part of the Black American consciousness, then a lot of non Black Americans have it built into our reflexes.   Many of us were raised by Black people. 

Sometimes this integrity seems to become sheer pig headedness.  A lot of people wish George W. Bush had been more willing to listen to evidence about the impending attack that turned out to be on the World Trade Center, and a lot of people think the “weapons of mass destruction” myth was pursued on too little evidence.  Believe as you will, but it is certainly possible. 

So as criticism goes, I would have to say the movie was pretty mild.  One question I had going into the movie was, “Who runs this guy?”  Here an undistinguished young man with a law degree is suddenly catapulted to the pinnacle of power.  He had to have had some serious advice and likely some discrete support from somebody.  There seems to be no question that he serves them, the shadowy characters that push globalization and world homogenization without consulting the rest of us.  The European Union is disintegrating from causes the most casual analyst should have seen.  The people getting the benefits, notably things like early retirement, were not the ones footing the bill.  And there was no way out.  The American Civil War proved beyond doubt that contracts between countries are like contracts between individuals; if something unforeseen turns up there has to be a way to ditch the contract.  There isn’t one.  The unseen hand of them has to be at work.  The guarantee of medical insurance for all Americans was a two thousand page document that appeared out of somewhere and was voted on with no analysis or debate I heard of.  There simply was not time.  That smells like their dirty hands.  So who are they?  In the movie the motivations of Obama remain enigmatic.  The question of them is not even raised.  So I suppose they made the movie.  Paranoia is an inexhaustible hobby. 

But there is a deeper criticism that applies to all leaders.  And here I am more comfortable; you won’t suspect me of slipping a political position in, except in the most general way. 

One voice that seems relevant is Michael Shermer (Politically Irrational, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN vol. 307 no. 4 October, 2012 page 92)  He states that the rational mind should choose the candidate to vote for on the basis of their stated intentions.  That makes good sense.  To me a politician is just a glorified clerk expected to do a lot of paper work including lining up expert opinions and doing as the experts suggest.  It would be nice to know just how the candidate expected to discharge that obligation.  Instead the article says that we irrationally select the more competent seeming one.  I don’t see that as a bad thing.  Competence is one of two things that one wishes to have in a clerk.  But the decision on competence is made on the basis of appearance, which should be sharp looking and “in control” or by voice, whereby competence is inferred from a deep, resonant, rapid voice, loud with lots of variation in volume. 

It does remind me of a conversation I witnessed years ago between two very bright young radiology residents.  They were disagreeing on the interpretation of a film.  They exchanged their positions in the rather high pitched tones one uses when making a tough choice.  Then one of them lowered the pitch of his voice and rather dogmatically offered a new line of reasoning to support his opinion.  The other responded by lowering his voice still further.  They went back and forth a few times, their voices dropping through tenor to baritone to base.  I am afraid I spoiled the drama by laughing out loud. 

Another article in the same issue describes psychopaths.  (Kevin Dutton The Wisdom of Psychopaths page 76)  The article avers that psychopathic serial killers share some things with powerful leaders, to wit: “a grandiose sense of self worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and manipulation of other.”  They lack fear and they lack the ability to feel guilt.  The phrase “fearless leader” is probably used primarily in an ironic sense, but really, who would want one?  I want a leader who will worry himself sick about everything. 

There seem to me to be a couple of things missing from all this.  One is the air or sincerity.  I would distinguish between seeming sincere and seeming persuasive.  If I think you are wrong, I don’t much care how thoroughly you are convinced of your error except to the extent that I would like you to change your mind.  But I have had the unhappy experience of being exposed to a number of psychopaths.  The thumbnail description works pretty well, but they all seemed to be so sincere. 

The thing I find missing from all of this is the one other important thing you want in a clerk.  You want honesty.  That is where the psychopathic mind is most harmful.  They lie.  I suppose people hesitate to talk about looking for an honest politician for fear of being laughed at.  That’s quite sad.  I don’t care what you say you are going to do if in fact you are just lying to manipulate me and I am not going to be able to check up on exactly what you are doing. 

Honest and integrity must be distinguished.  I’d like to see both.  I’d also like to have a politician say something like, “Look folks.  We have a demographic crisis.  We just aren’t making the babies we will need to survive as a society.  We need to understand why.” 

Dream on.

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