The President Comes To Grips With Reality

It is only by speaking out loud and clear about a lack of cooperation that Obama will get cooperation

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Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

House Majority Leader Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) and others watch as US President Barack Obama shakes Rep. Patrick McHenry's (R-NC) hand in the Rose Garden of the White House April 5, 2012 in Washington, DC.

One way to avoid reality is to bend it internally, to alter our experience of what we see. Those who regularly protect themselves from anxiety by bending reality become used to self-obfuscation. While clouding one’s perceptions makes it harder to set priorities, the real danger is in downplaying potentially serious matters — like not having a chronic cough not looked at, since many more benign explanations may apply.

The material reality President Obama bends is his perception of how much he is hated – whether by the right, by racists north and south, and even by big business. This enables him to stick fast to the vision of hope and change that he espoused in his 2008 campaign. He had already revealed ed his internal reality to everyone – proclaiming in 2004 that he doesn’t see red or blue states, but the United States. After more than three years as President, Obama’s goal of unity remains in place, and he had to feel heartened to share national camera time last week with House Majority Leader and strident critic Eric Cantor. Cantor was on the White House lawn to support Obama’s signing of the jobs bill, and spoke words that could have come from Obama’s lips about cooperation and working together with the Administration. For the President this moment was a victory for his internal world-view — something to which he continues to hold dear to his heart.

But what set the stage for at least a show of bipartisanship wasn’t Obama’s erstwhile pattern of accommodation. Quite the contrary. Earlier in the week, in a speech broadcast on national television, he excoriated Republicans, saying that the Republican economic plan would create a form of “social Darwinism” pitting the poor against the wealthy. “It’s a Trojan horse,” he said. “Disguised as a deficit-reduction plan, it’s really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. . . It’s a prescription for decline.”

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Putting Republicans on the spot worked—at least for a few days. And it fits with a larger pattern that began at the end of last year when Obama began to call out Republicans by name when speaking about jobs, tax cuts for the one per-cent, and ultimately about how totally uncooperative the Republicans have been. This tactic is new, and very welcome, for ironically it is by speaking out loud and clear about Republican intransigence and lack of cooperation that Obama will get cooperation. But it contradicts his previous world view that sworn enemies could come together because they would put America ahead of party, a vision of unity that grew out of his childhood need to create order out of a broken home and a feared and absent father.

It is hard for anyone to throw off the inner yoke of the past. President Obama has worked hard not to be dominated by his own childhood traumas, but he still has trouble seeing the genuine hatred that remains. His recent behavior is a good start, indicating that he’s beginning to see adversaries like Cantor and Mitch McConnell for who they are. Only by confronting them can he face his own deep and understandable fears without having to bend them to his profound need to see an America where hate can be tamed by reason. What brought Cantor to the Rose Garden was confrontation, not accommodation.

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