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Politico: Obama is a 'Pathological Rationalist'

Politico ran two opposing pieces today, one titled What's Wrong with Obama? and the other And What's Right with Obama?

What's right turns out to be his "dazzling" smile, his "normality," his enemies and his luck. It's not very convincing unless you're already a true believer.

The opposing column on what's wrong is more interesting. It suggests that either Obama or his staff have lost a step since reelection, using the recent Syria debacle as exhibit A. But despite this ostensibly being an article about what is wrong, Politico can't help inserting a big paragraph of fanboy praise up front:

For all that some on the right see him as a dangerous radical, his political instincts have always been toward synthesis — borrowing ideas and language from multiple sides — and split-the-difference moderation. Early in his term, he settled on a market-based overhaul of health insurance with an individual mandate to buy coverage not out of deep conviction for this solution but because Republicans had once proposed the idea, even as most liberal Democrats wanted a more aggressive approach. Obama is a pathological rationalist, animated by his belief that the truth is usually not black or white but is found in the gray shades in between, and that reasonable people should embrace the seeming contradictions of divergent views to find a sensible way forward.

Good grief. Are we still claiming the President is a uniter not a divider? How much more evidence do we need that he is hyper-competitive in all areas especially politics. Have the authors read fellow Politico scribe Glenn Thrush's e-book in which he quotes a campaign aide saying "Don't let the Mr. Cool shit fool you..." How about the vignette where Obama responds to a possible Rubio run for VP saying "Tell your boy to watch it. He might get his ass kicked." That's the voice of synthesis and moderation?

The claim that Obama is a "pathological rationalist," i.e. rational to a fault, is even less defensible. Any sizzle reel of Obama highlights will be drawn not from rationalism but from his endless string of emotional appeals to the public. Whether it's Sandy Hook or immigration reform or the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Obama's standard mode is not logos but pathos. Whether he wants to overturn Stand Your Ground or pass health reform, Obama is always focused on some victim who can serve as a rhetorical poster child for his campaign. Obama has even gone out of his way to defend this kind of argument:

I've heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  "A prop," somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate?

Maybe that's defensible or even inevitable in today's politics but it is not "pathologically rational." In fact it would be more accurate to label this rational pathos, i.e. the calculated use of emotion to win arguments. This has been the President's default mode for five years now. When is Politico going to notice?

But even worse than buying in to Obama's pragmatic nonsense is the example Harris and Purdum choose to prove it. Obama's health plan was designed from the outset to lead the country to single-payer over time without having to pass single-payer. It was a gimmick, a sneaky strategy, a clever lie that nearly worked. There was ample evidence this was the case before the bill was passed and Politico ignored all of it. Harry Reid recently admitted that was the goal yet somehow the consummate Washington insiders at Politico still don't know about any of this.

The other alternative is that Politico's writers know exactly what is going on but also know some of their important White House contacts will be reading this piece. I can understand the business impulse toward not alienating an important source, but at some point Politico ought to let the public know they don't believe a word of this tripe. Because really, how could they?


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