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Isaac Chotiner's Belated Awakening

Isaac Chotiner's Belated Awakening

Isaac Chotiner has penned a worthy deconstruction of David Remnick’s interview of President Barack Obama for the New Yorker. He notes that Obama condescends to Americans, speaking to us like children: “Remnick’s piece, in fact, doesn’t show Obama’s complexity; it shows Obama applauding his own complexity,” Chotiner notes. And it annoys him–well, it’s starting to, anyway, after five or six years of the same tired routine.

Citing one particularly long self-reflection by Obama, Chotiner is incredulous: “After eight years of George W. Bush, I found comments like this one appealing five years ago, and so did a lot of others. All the same, while it may be ‘adult’ to talk to people with such self-awareness, the sentiments themselves are not very deep (‘doing my very best,’ ‘at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse.’) This is how adults talk?”

I applaud Chotiner’s analysis here, but it comes too late. Not only are we stuck with Obama, but his personality flaws were evident long ago to anyone willing to take a look at the man himself rather than the fantasies built around him. 

My own personal moment of disillusionment with the promising junior U.S. Senator from my then-home state of Illinois came when I read his second memoir, The Audacity of Hope, in late 2006.

What struck me was Obama’s habit of articulating both sides of an argument–and then always choosing the wrong one, for the most craven reasons. It’s Obama’s signature move, and people often convince themselves that because he can articulate their (opposing) view, he a) is smart b) is open to agreement or compromise. But it’s just a parlor trick–a post-modern lit-crit maneuver, a tactic, a defense mechanism, a political weapon.

I was particularly irritated by Obama’s reflections on free trade in Audacity. He walks through the arguments on both sides, and actually seems to come down, intellectually, on the side of free trade. He knows that it is the best option for the economy. Yet he votes against it–“to register a protest against what I considered to be the White House’s inattention to the losers from free trade.” 

Between the lines: because the unions said so. Pathetic.

Obama has always tried to hide the grim reality of left-wing dogma behind such sophistry. Once you notice what he is doing, it becomes impossible to un-see. He can’t help himself. For all his gifts, he is limited in his political skills, and that is how he compensates–through the “meta.” As such, he makes a decent pundit but a bad leader. 

I’m glad Chotiner has finally seen through it, but angry–yes, angry!–that it has taken smart people so long.


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