It’s the story, stupid

I tend not to link to the NY Times because I know smart people read it as a matter of routine, and you, gentle readers, are among the smartest in existence. But in the Sunday Times, Drew Westen offers a truly distinguished explanation of President Obama’s signal failure — the failure to tell the American people the story of the man-made disaster that has befallen them, and how they will transcend it. I have great admiration for the Times’ Week in Review (even if I find no benefit in it’s new name, Sunday Review), but Westin’s piece, “What Happened to Obama,” operates several levels above the average Review piece, melding history, psychology and practical politics (trained in the psychological sciences, Westen has of late been paying the rent as a “messaging consultant to nonprofit groups and Democratic leaders”) in a piercing and absolutely convincing argument that Obama has failed the first duty of leadership: storytellng. After explaining, in a historical/evolutionary context, why it is that subjects expect their leaders to explain the world in a narrative format, Westen offers this story that I (and I suspect a vast majority of Americans) have longed to hear from the presidential podium:

“I know you’re scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can’t promise that we won’t make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again.”

Westen points out, rightly, one of Obama’s largest narrative failures — the failure to explain who the bad guys are, and how they are going to be brought to justice — and ends the piece with a brilliant series of hypotheses, each less flattering than the last, about why Obama “seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue.” I won’t explain them here; you really must read this whole piece to understand their full brilliance. But in an attempt to get you to go read this article, I will leave you with its kicker, which plays off the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assertion that the long arc of history bends toward justice, and which is thrilling in its denunciation of the deformed compromise that threatens to become the hallmark of the Obama era:

“But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks. “

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2 Comments

Filed under 2012 election, politics, presidents

2 responses to “It’s the story, stupid

  1. This was an excellent read, thank you for sharing. Do you want any help writing on this weblog? If that’s the case, let me know. Thanks again.

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