Like the last survivors of a school of sharks looking for prey, the remaining candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination are now turning their attacks from each other towards President Obama. While they may target “Obamacare” or something else, what they are really attacking is Obama’s capacity to tolerate complexity, on which he thrives. Unconsciously, the Republican cantidates – fueled by the party’s fringe voters – find Obama’s comfort with nuance so anxiety provoking that they lash out against his positions that require more than the simplified certainty on which their collective sense of security is based.
This deep-seated drive brings them to extremes, as exemplified by Rick Santorum’s most recent claims that the Obama Department of Justice “seems to favor pornographers over children and families.” Meanwhile, Mitt Romney claims that if Obama were re-elected, Iran would definitely have a nuclear bomb. And Newt Gingrich now has a gasoline pump as part of his logo, as he promises that gas prices would be frozen at $2.50 per gallon in a Gingrich presidency, which we all know could only happen in an America so simple that one man could control the price of fuel nationwide.
Several experts have shown that gas prices in the U.S. are in sync with the rest of the world, making it unlikely that Obama caused the rise or can control fluctuation. Yet Gingrich’s vision has an undeniable appeal among a certain part of the electorate, as the current point of attack about rising gas prices now includes an ever-expanding chorus of voices going after Obama. Historians call this mindset the “devil theory” of history, reducing a complex series of interrelated circumstances into a single cause and a lone bad guy who caused it.
In psychoanalytic terms, we are dealing with a childish need to explain mystery — especially to blame someone else for any personal discomfort or stress. With his exotic “other”-ness, and his mysterious capacity to tolerate mystery, Obama is an appealing recipient of that blame. Sharks are most likely to attack when they are circling prey that are bleeding, so to sustain their focus on Obama they will first need to draw blood.
But given his new-found strength, Obama is unlikely to let them succeed on the topic of gas prices. He has offered seriously thought-out approaches that could definitely help. He called for an end to tax subsidies for oil companies and speculators who make windfall profits – in large part to expose congressmen who are in the pockets of the oil and gas industry. The final irony is that Obama has approved more drilling than any president in recent memory.
And yet they try. They seize upon his support for wind and solar power and opposition to quick fixes like the Keystone pipeline, equating a pro-environment position with being anti-oil. By simplifying things yet again, the Right is once more demonstrating that our both/and president is incompatible with their either/or approach to life.