Monday, February 25, 2008

What's A Delusion, Anyway?

Hillary Clinton, and she is not alone in this, has suggested that Barack Obama's campaign is more rhetoric than substance, and that people should "get real."

During the recent debate in Austin, Barack Obama turned it around on Clinton, saying that she implies that the millions of Obama supporters are "delusional" and have been "duped."

Obama's remark got a chuckle out of a number of those present, including Clinton. Clinton's response did not extend beyond that chuckle, however.

I was not amused by the "delusion" remark. To me it seemed just another example of Obama's rhetoric. Indeed, Obama did not offer any evidence that a great many Obama supporters aren't delusional, or that they haven't been duped. It was apparently enough to just use the word "delusional," as if that made the case for him. I guess it is just obvious that delusions cannot be held on such a large scale.

So what's a delusion, anyway?

According to this medical dictionary, a delusion is "an idiosyncratic false belief that is firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary."

Clinton's remark did not suggest that Obama's supporters were unwilling or unable to listen to reason or evidence. She did not, therefore, suggest that they were delusional. She merely suggested that they have been swayed more by rhetoric than by substantive argument, and that the reality of the situation is that she is more prepared and more qualified to be President.

Obama's "delusion" remark was, it seems, just another example of him using rhetoric to avoid or misinform. But he raised the quetion, so let's consider it: is it possible that there is mass delusion among the Obama supporters?

Mass delusions are possible, after all.

Scientists will tell you there is incontrovertible and obvious evidence that the human species emerged through an evolutionary process taking millions of years, yet how many people firmly maintain that it is not so?

How many millions of people believe there is life after death, when an overwhelming amount of evidence points to the contrary?

It may be that you need religion or some spiritual element to engender mass delusions such as these. Religion and spirituality certainly seem to help, anyway. As it turns out, some such elements are not just present in Obama's campaign--they are primary ingredients.

Now, I haven't been to an Obama rally, yet from the way people talk about them, it seems they have a sort of revivalist feel to them. And it seems pretty obvious that the enthralling experience has little to do with unexpectedly penetrating arguments or stunningly revelatory policies. It's about the experience of hearing Obama speak, and feeling the surge of excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd. Rational criticism apparently has little to do with it.

Additionally, as indicated by some quotes in this article, there tend to be distinctly spiritual themes. At one rally, Michelle Obama declared, "Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation."

In less spiritual language, Mrs. Obama put it this way: "Barack Obama . . . is going to demand that you shed your cynicism."

The idea is that getting involved--voting, trying to make a difference, and getting over the cynicism--is the healing process. Well, I'm all for people trying to get over their cynicism and trying to make a difference. But is Obama really the only candidate who understands that? And, really, what evidence is there that there is an abundance of cynicism in America?

Look at American cinema and television--look at the stories Americans consume and live by. They tend to be anything but the product of cynical minds. They are generally overly romantic, fantastical, and ridiculous, with very little connection to the realities of human existence. (I cite "Lars and The Real Girl" as one of the more odious and recent examples.)

Americans tend to be anything but cynical. But, couch it in vague, spiritual terms (everybody can identify with the idea of a broken soul) and offer an easy solution (vote for Obama), and now you have millions of Obama supporters thinking that Obama alone is responsible for voter turnout. Obama is the man who renewed the people's faith in politics, and offered them spiritual guidance in the process. Obama alone can bring about real change in Washington, change you can believe in. And it is believed in adamantly and irrationally.

We cannot give Obama credit for the desire for change in America. We cannot give him credit for creating the immense amount of interest in this Presidential campaign. Indeed, there has been record voter turnout in a number of states, and a lot of those votes went to Hillary Clinton. Just look at Florida for a stunning example.

This is an historic election because these are historic times. The American people feel that, and they didn't need Obama to make it so.

Does this mean Obama's supporters are delusional?

Not necessarily.

It's only a delusion if the false beliefs are stubbornly held even when confronted with undeniable proof or evidence of their falsehood.

It could be that many of Obama's supporters have false beliefs about him, not because they are delusional, but simply because they are gullible and desperate for something to believe in.

Some have no doubt been misled by biased media coverage. It is not hard to find Obama supporters who regurgitate falsehoods about easily verified election facts. For example, take Florida and Michigan. Some Obama supporters think Clinton's was the only Democratic name on the Florida ballots. Some think Clinton even campaigned in Florida or Michigan, when no Democrats were allowed to do so, and that she put her name on the ballots after agreeing to remove it from them.

How many of Obama's supporters are delusional? It's an open question. What remains apparent, however, is Obama's ability to use rhetoric to evade and mislead, and the almost religious devotion he cultivates through his speeches and rallies. These are the issues Clinton raised, and Obama evaded them with rhetoric and a chuckle.

Michelle Obama: A Question of Loyalty

While Michelle Obama is no doubt loyal to her husband, she may not be so loyal to his ideals, or to the Democratic party. Her husband’s campaign exalts unity and change, but Michelle Obama seems to want change at the expense of unity.

When asked whether she would support Hillary Clinton, should Clinton win the Democratic nomination, Mrs. Obama answered: I'd have to think about that. I'd have to think about . . . her policies, her approach, her tone.”

That no doubt resonates with a lot of Obama's supporters. But think, how much would it resonate if Mrs. Obama had left out the reference to Clinton's tone?

Really, if she had suggested that she might ditch the Democratic party on the basis of Clinton's policies and "approach" (whatever that means), I don't think many of us would know what she was talking about. But when you include the word "tone," her flirtation with the Republican party is supposed to make sense.

But it doesn't make sense. At least, not as the sentiments of a fair, honest, concerned and well-informed Democrat.

It does make sense as a tactic to suggest to voters just how evil the Clinton campaign is, following the Obama's usual, rhetorically gifted but non-substantive style.

It does make sense as an attempt to scare Democrats into voting for Obama by suggesting that he alone can draw enough voters, including his wife, to beat a Republican in November.

According to Paul Krugman, “Mrs. Clinton may yet be the nominee — and if Obama supporters care about anything beyond hero worship, they should want to see her win in November.”

Apparently, Mrs. Obama disagrees.

The False Premise

A while back, Bill Clinton was reported as saying that Barack Obama had a brilliant campaign built upon a false premise. The accusation was that Obama lied about being the only candidate who had consistently been opposed to the war in Iraq. Obama continues to maintain that he is the only Democratic candidate who can stand up in a general election with a consistent anti-war history.

Obama has criticized Hillary Clinton for being similar to McCain, citing the fact that both she and McCain voted for the war. That is the way it is usually stated. They “voted for the war.” And, of course, the war in question is the Iraq war waged by Bush—the war still going on today.

There is a major misunderstanding being perpetrated here. It would be far less misleading to say that all three of them (Obama, Clinton and McCain) never voted against the Iraq war. Furthermore, it would be more accurate to say that McCain is the only one on record as a supporter of Bush’s war.

This may be the most crucial point of contention in this heated and historic primary. Yet, the veracity of Clinton’s accusation has been lost in the shuffle. After a frenzied January spin cycle, the general opinion is that Bill Clinton, not Obama, is factually-challenged.

True, Hillary Clinton voted for that infamous resolution in 2002 about authorizing the use of military force in Iraq. To her credit, she has not apologized for her vote. The fact is, that vote was not a vote for the war that Bush started, and it was not a vote for the war that continues today. It was not a vote for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. It was not a vote for war, period. It was a vote to use the threat of military force to pressure Iraq into complying with UN inspector guidelines. The Bush administration ignored the fine print, and the Bush administration is alone responsible for the Iraq war.

As much as we might like to pile on the scapegoats, we cannot blame the Iraq war on Hillary Clinton. The US Senate is not responsible for the fiasco, and to say otherwise is irresponsible and rewrites history for the sake of spin and politics. Ultimately, it just makes the Bush administration look better than it deserves.

Still, some say that Hillary Clinton showed poor judgment in her vote, because, even if it was not technically a vote for war, it helped Bush create the illusion of justification for the war. Regardless of her intentions or reasons, then, her detractors claim that Senator Clinton helped pave the way for war.

Obama and his supporters also point out that Obama is on the record as being unequivocally against the war from the start. This is supposed to prove that Obama showed better judgment back in 2002. Thus, Obama says he and he alone can be “right on day one.”

Let’s pause for a moment to evaluate the change of focus here. The question now is not whether or not Clinton ever supported the Iraq war. Of course, she did not. So, we may acknowledge that Obama’s original premise is indeed false, and that he is not the only candidate who has consistently been against the Iraq war. Yet, the relevant question remains, did Obama show better judgment in 2002?

The evidence usually cited in Obama’s favor is his celebrated 2002 anti-war speech. Yet, Obama did not decry the Senate resolution in his speech, which was a plea against Bush’s war, and not against using the threat of military force to pressure Iraq into complying with UN inspector guidelines. In fact, in that very speech, Obama said, “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work.”

That is the fight Clinton was behind when she voted as she did in 2002. Obama’s speech can hardly be counted as evidence that he would have voted any differently than Senator Clinton. On the contrary, his 2002 speech suggests that Obama understood and supported the concept behind the resolution.

To this day, many intelligent and eager voters—supporters of Clinton as well as Obama—believe that Obama voted against the 2002 resolution. He did not, and he could not, because he was not in the US Senate at the time.

Furthermore, Obama is on record as saying that he could not be sure how he would have voted in 2002 had he been a US Senator at the time and had all the information required to make an informed decision.

There is no evidence that Barack Obama has shown better judgment than Hillary Clinton. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that Clinton has the integrity to stand up for her judgment, while Obama has the audacity to rely on false premises that rewrite history just to make himself look better.

These are the facts. Yet, to this day, most Obama supporters believe that he passed a test where Clinton failed. This is the false premise Bill Clinton correctly pointed out, and which got spun around so much it smacked the Clinton campaign in the face.

When Bill Clinton criticized Obama’s campaign, the media jumped on the former President like a pack of angry wolves. They focused whole-heartedly on his tone, and for the most part ignored the issue of whether or not he spoke the truth.

It would be too easy to blame all of Obama’s popularity on this false premise. Yet it would also be too easy to underestimate the influence of the media in this election. So far, it seems that influence has worked to the benefit of Barack Obama, and to the detriment of the truth.