Obama: “The alien in the White House”

I admire Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz the way I admire Sarah Palin. I detest them both, but must admit they are good at what they do. Palin is good at getting out her messages with no accountability or explanation thanks to her Facebook page. Rabinowitz is a master at the subtle art of character assassination. She does it beautifully, with chiseled sentences, immaculate syntax and a truly fine sense of drama. She understand the power of words to put readers into a sort of trance, and she uses this to stunning effect. You don’t even realize she’s performing an assassination.

Today, in a column shamefully titled The Alien in the White House, she sets her sights on Obama, joining the media pack’s obsession du jour, namely his remoteness and lack of connection with Americans. As usual, she starts off with elegant diction disguising a brutal point.

The deepening notes of disenchantment with Barack Obama now issuing from commentators across the political spectrum were predictable. So, too, were the charges from some of the president’s earliest enthusiasts about his failure to reflect a powerful sense of urgency about the oil spill.

There should have been nothing puzzling about his response to anyone who has paid even modest critical attention to Mr. Obama’s pronouncements. For it was clear from the first that this president—single-minded, ever-visible, confident in his program for a reformed America saved from darkness by his arrival—was wanting in certain qualities citizens have until now taken for granted in their presidents…

A great part of America now understands that this president’s sense of identification lies elsewhere, and is in profound ways unlike theirs. He is hard put to sound convincingly like the leader of the nation, because he is, at heart and by instinct, the voice mainly of his ideological class. He is the alien in the White House, a matter having nothing to do with delusions about his birthplace cherished by the demented fringe.

Yes, all the other presidents had these qualities, but not Obama. He is an alien. You can then put in the disclaimer that you don’t mean he is actually an “alien,” as in “illegal alien,” but her words are carefully chosen and they cunningly speak to the GOP base for whom Rabinowitz always writes (though, to her credit, she was as critical of Palin’s being a birdbrain as I was). Her point comes across.

As proof of his coldness, and of his failure to understand what Americans value, like our sacred relationship with Great Britain, she finds an anecdote, and though she admits what actually happened remains unclear, she nevertheless reads into it all sorts of dark meaning. This man is not an American in spirit. He is not “like us.” Here’s the proof:

One of his first reforms was to rid the White House of the bust of Winston Churchill—a gift from Tony Blair—by packing it back off to 10 Downing Street. A cloudlet of mystery has surrounded the subject ever since, but the central fact stands clear. The new administration had apparently found no place in our national house of many rooms for the British leader who lives on so vividly in the American mind. Churchill, face of our shared wartime struggle, dauntless rallier of his nation who continues, so remarkably, to speak to ours. For a president to whom such associations are alien, ridding the White House of Churchill would, of course, have raised no second thoughts.

Sinister indeed, and the right-leaning media like The Corner pounced on it with a vengeance. Obama must be ignorant of WWII and Churchill’s greatness. He is from outside our – the real Americans’ – Judeo-Christian society. He is some mystery, an anomaly, and though she never says it, is there any doubt his being black and partly from Kenyan descent aren’t at cause? And returning to the bust, was there perhaps a simpler explanation than Obama hating England and wanting to spit in its face? Perhaps.

Intended as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity, the bust was a loaner from former British prime minister Tony Blair following the September 11 attacks. A bust of Abraham Lincoln–Obama’s historical hero–now sits in its place. A White House spokesperson says the Churchill bust was removed before Obama’s inauguration as part of the usual changeover operations, adding that every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.

Perhaps Obama’s returning the bust was a bad idea. Maybe he should have kept it. But it’s not like he replaced it with a bust of Mao. To read so much into something so trivial – well, that’s the MO for nearly all the assaults on Obama. Critics ignore the big things, like continuing the drone attacks and renditions and illegal wiretaps, and focus on pure and utter bullshit. He didn’t sound angry enough in Louisiana. He was laughing at a party the day the rig exploded (weren’t we all? It only became a national crisis days later, when BP admitted they did not have it under control.) He bowed too low in front of a foreign leader. He doesn’t wear a US flag lapel pin. He sent a loaned bust back to England.

Rabinowitz waits until the end to thrust the dagger in as far as it can go.

The beliefs and attitudes that this president has internalized are to be found everywhere—in the salons of the left the world over—and, above all, in the academic establishment, stuffed with tenured radicals and their political progeny. The places where it is held as revealed truth that the United States is now, and has been throughout its history, the chief engine of injustice and oppression in the world.

But there can be no doubt by now of the influences that have shaped him. They account for his grand apology tour through the capitals of Europe and to the Muslim world, during which he decried America’s moral failures—her arrogance, insensitivity. They were the words of a man to whom reasons for American guilt came naturally. Americans were shocked by this behavior in their newly elected president. But he was telling them something from those lecterns in foreign lands—something about his distant relation to the country he was about to lead.

The truth about that distance is now sinking in, which is all to the good. A country governed by leaders too principled to speak the name of its mortal enemy needs every infusion of reality it can get.

This is nasty stuff, and of course it’s the fault of the usual suspects, those on the left, and especially academia. Your typical Republican slander against anyone who thinks progressively, branding them as enemies of the state. But she says it so beautifully.

This is one of Rabinowitz’ most skillful columns. It’s devastating. It’s eloquent, yet it’s as inciteful as anything Goebbels ever said. Don’t believe me? Be sure to see the comments. I remember all the nonsense about Bush Derangement Syndrome. That was easily refuted because the outrage in question was based on facts that couldn’t be refuted, like starting wars, permitting torture, consigning habeas corpus to the scrap heap. With Obama, all the derangement is focused on nonsense, like bowing too low. Rabinowitz makes you think the people hate Obama, when his poll numbers have stood up remarkably well. His predecessor left office with a 26 percent approval rating. And, of course, never an acknowledgment that he inherited more problems than perhaps any president ever. It was Obama who brought death into this world and all our woe, and it all started the day he put his hand on the Bible (which was probably a Qur’an with a fake cover) and took his oath of office.

To see just how susceptible people are to this kind of rhetoric, I urge you again to read the comments. As I jumped from page to page, I realized (again) just how dangerous America’s political polarization is, and thought back to the elections from 1980 to 1996, when each side vigorously attacked its opponent, but never referred to them as traitors, as aliens, as Muslims (which the right sees only as a very bad word), as actual terrorists, or at least pals of terrorists. If people truly believe their leaders are animals, monsters, rapists, how long will it take for there to be violence? And Ms. Rabinowitz, no matter how silver-tongued your hatchet job may be, we’ll all know you made your fair contribution.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

It will be interesting to read Dorothy Rabinowitz’ hatchet job on Obama after he is re-elected in 2012, and he will be. You see, America is now brimming with the kinds of people Rabinowitz sees as aliens.

June 10, 2010 @ 9:15 am | Comment

I certainly agree with you, now that the GOP is eating its babies with loyalty oaths, stepping over one another to prove who’s craziest. Obama may not be my first choice, but I think he will win in 2012.

To other readers: Pug is not pugster. You won’t see pugster here anymore. Of course, as soon as I said that he went to various other blogs to say this is a “hate site” and that I live only to censor. What can you do?

June 10, 2010 @ 9:24 am | Comment

Following on from the Churchill bust, I read in teh British press now that Obama isn’t doing his popularity the best of good by implying we Brits are somehow responsible for the oil spill… Seems some people think he’s overly stressing the “British” in BP and ignoring the American services that contributed to the mess. Also a bit ironic that the Bhopal disaster (they finally passed sentence on a few of the managers recently) hasn’t affected either Union Carbide or Dow Chemicals at all.

Richard, I’d not worry about Pug_wash – the opinions of a foil hatted loondon’t actually really deserve to be aired. You are doing him a favour.

June 10, 2010 @ 9:45 am | Comment

He’s definitely having a blast reviling me on other sites. Whatever turns him on.

Did you see the recent sentencing of the 7 then-Union Carbide executives responsible for Bhopal? Reinvents the phrase “slap on the wrist.”

Has Obama actually implied it was “Brits” who were responsible, or BP? It is so easy for communications to get garbled, like a game of telephone. I’d like to know what he actually said. Not that I’d put it past him, or anything.

June 10, 2010 @ 9:51 am | Comment

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/7815713/Barack-Obamas-attacks-on-BP-hurting-British-pensioners.html
“In the past week, Mr Obama, who insists on referring to BP by its former name British Petroleum, has suggested that its chief executive, Tony Hayward, would have been sacked if he worked for him.”
and
“Last week Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, described America’s anti-British rhetoric as “extreme and unhelpful”.”

The sentiment also seems to appear in some comments in the American press. Some of the NYT comments to news stories appear to eaquate BP with the British people and government.

All the more annoying on the Euro side of the Altalntic when the Piper Alpha disaster didn’t bring about anti-American feeling…
“Jason Kenney, a oil and gas analyst at ING, said: “When you compare how Britain reacted towards the US company Occidental after its Piper Alpha disaster where 167 people died, they are worlds apart.

“The US reaction is getting towards hysterical. Half of them seem to think the US is knee deep in oil. It’s difficult to underestimate the effect 24-hour TV dinner media coverage of the spill is having over there.””

Of course, I am only citing one news source here…the others do hint at the same sentiments, though. And the people commenting on the media stories (in the UK and India) have frequently brought up the differences between this and Bhopal.

On a personal note, my father, an ex-petroleum engineer, says the Americans should see the mess all the oil companies made in Siberia. Made this seem like a minor spill :-) And the messes left in Nigeria….

June 10, 2010 @ 10:27 am | Comment

See Al Gore on this subject – he says more toxins are released every day by coal plants, etc. Which doesn’t make the BP disaster any more palatable, but it does put it in perspective.

If the one charge is that Obama says “British Petroleum” instead of “BP,” I’d say the argument is questionable. I’ve been watching the news; if Obama actually blamed the UK, I didn’t hear it.

The Occidental accident you mention – that sure has been relegated to the dustbin of history! I’ll bet just about no one in the US who wasn’t directly involved even remembers that it happened. Shameful.

June 10, 2010 @ 11:08 am | Comment

Richard, you’re probably right with regards to Obama’s use of “British Petroleum” (ANd BP tried sooo hard to convince us it now meant “Beyond Petroleum”!). Methinks the right wing parts of Fleet Street are reading into things that aren’t there….

June 10, 2010 @ 11:21 am | Comment

@Mike
Yes, your father makes a very valid observation.
On the basis that none of us like paying too much for our petrol/gas I think we all share a partial responsibility for these disasters…

June 10, 2010 @ 5:53 pm | Comment

I am not a troll. I have read your blog on and off for years and rarely comment( back in the days of Lirelou, Ivan et al.)
There were a lot of crazy stuff floating around about Bush. To wit, Sy Hersh was on Mathhews show (twice) and promulgated the idea that he heard from “reliable’ sources that before Bush left office he would bomb Iran or that there would be a military coup so Bush could retain power.
There were some legitimate gripes but also some crazy stuff and even a cursory check of google could confirm this..its just politics as usual and for some “payback time”
I am NOT saying its right or just but tame to some of the stuff that used to be said, for instance, about FDR and Eleanor.
Hell, they used to compare Lincoln to an ape…..
Personally i LIKE Obama’s icy demeanor. I don’t want him shoveling oil tar balls on the gulf coast. There are other things that need attention too.
What does perplex me is you guys on the left (I consider myself a social centrist and fiscal conservative) have the power..what do you care what they say?
You are like the Union generals that where so concerned about Bobby Lee that Grant had to scold them and say..Lee should be concerned about what WE do……

June 10, 2010 @ 10:06 pm | Comment

Chosun, here’s my issue: There may have been erroneous news reports by Sy Hersh and others about Bush; that happens with every president, and that was never taken seriously, it never stuck; if you have to google it, it proves my point that this never went mainstream, but were just some remarks on a cable news show. In that case, I can show you far loonier things that are said on a daily basis by Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and their guests. What we’re seeing here is craziness going mainstream. It never became mainstream for people to refer to Bush as a friend to terrorists or as a Marxist or a Muslim (or any equivalent thereof) or as plotting to take away all of Americans’ guns. The reaction to Bush was about very specific policies that were, in my mind, inexcusable (torture, habeas corpus, wiretapping, Patriot Act, etc.). This is what I find so frustrating. No one can ever define exactly what it is about Obama that is so horrifying. Maybe not the most competent or imaginative of presidents, maybe a failure in terms of executing his campaign promises. But the tone of the rhetoric in that comments thread I link to is literally over-the-top bat-shit crazy. Obama is a Muslim conspiring to enslave America and unite it with Al Qaeda’s Caliphate.

Re. why I care about what they say: The rhetoric is fashioning a new generation of GOP superstars, like Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin and Rand Paul. These are not people who should be in power, and in any normal time they wouldn’t be. It’s because the wave of irrational sentiment that you see in those comments has become the norm, with Rush and Drudge and Malkin and Breitbart and Beck banging the drum in the major media. IOW, outlandish kookiness has been given a broad platform and has become mainstream. If it were contained and didn’t affect my life I would ignore it. But if you look at the senate race here in Arizona, you’ll see it’s all about which GOP candidate can make himself loonier, embracing the teabaggers and all the baggage they lug around. McCain used to be a rational person. Not anymore. The teabaggers have caused a seismic shift in what conservative leaders need to do to stay in power. The one consolation is that this has to come back to bite the party. I am hoping there are still enough sane voters in America to recognize the unbelievable hypocrisy and, yes, racism behind this movement and recoil in disgust. There’s no doubt the GOP will gain many seats in 2010, but if they keep moving to the fringes Obama’s victory in 2012 is assured.

June 11, 2010 @ 2:43 am | Comment

You know, I’m no Obama fan but for rather opposite reasons — I think he’s Wall Street’s guy and a total insider whose first instinct is to compromise, to wait for a consensus to emerge, rather than to lead.

Things like this column infuriate me because they obscure the real issues we need to be discussing and make it nearly impossible for the simplest small things to get done.

It is total hate speech because it not only demonizes an individual (the President) but entire populations of people. Disgusting.

June 11, 2010 @ 3:08 am | Comment

Isn’t it ironic that they hate him because he’s anti-business, anti-free market and a Marxist? And I completely agree, the rabid rage directed at such trivial nonsense makes everything worse, because it’s a diversion from what’s really wrong with the current administration.

I’ve been reading Rabinowitz since the 80s when she was a columnist with the NY Post. She is absolutely unsurpassed at what she does, i.e., destroying people and generating hatred. She reached a new level of vileness with this piece.

June 11, 2010 @ 3:37 am | Comment

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