Obamaville's incoherence is a symptom of intellectual exhaustion
"They paused to scream at the walls of a Citibank branch."
To our mind, that sentence more than anything we've read encapsulates the spirit of Obamaville. It originally appeared in a San Francisco Chronicle story about an incident in which "dozens of college students" invaded a Bank of America Branch, "pitching a tent and chanting 'shame, shame' until they were arrested."
On the way to B of A, they paused at Citi to scream at the walls. These are college students, acting like 2-year-olds throwing a tantrum. What does that tell you about their critical thinking skills--and about the standards of American higher education? The likes of the New York Times expect us to take such incoherent spasms of rage seriously as a political "movement." What does that tell us about the standards of the liberal media?
At the Puffington Host, Robert Reich, who served as President Clinton's labor secretary and is now a professor of public policy at the University of California's flagship Berkeley campus, issues a preposterous defense of the Obamavillians, allegedly on First Amendment grounds. He begins by rehearsing the standard left-liberal lament that the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring speech merely because the speakers choose to organize themselves as corporations. That leads to this non sequitur:
This is where the Occupiers come in. If there's a core message to the Occupier movement it's that the increasing concentration of income and wealth poses a grave danger to our democracy.
Yet when Occupiers seek to make their voices heard--in one of the few ways average people can still be heard--they're told their First Amendment rights are limited.
The New York State Court of Appeals [sic; actually a state trial judge] along with many mayors and other officials say [sic] Occupiers can picket--but they can't encamp. Yet it's the encampments themselves that have drawn media attention (along with the police efforts to remove them).
A bunch of people carrying pickets isn't news. When it comes to making views known, picketing is no competition for big money.
In reality, the First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech--to state one's views without government censorship or the fear thereof. It guarantees no one the right to make "news." Nor does it guarantee the right to engage in unlawful behavior with the purpose of "making views known."
It is true that constitutional "speech" goes beyond the exercise of the vocal function and includes symbolic actions. Perhaps the most famous example is the burning of an American flag, which the Supreme Court in 1989 held to be "symbolic" speech. But it is not the act of burning that is protected by the First Amendment. Texas v. Johnson did not strike down fire codes, or even set out an exception to them for expressive purposes. It said the government may not penalize the specific act of burning a flag because of that act's symbolic meaning.
Similarly, if, say, the New York City Police Department allowed Tea Partiers but not Obamavillians to camp out for months at Zuccotti Park, that would be a First Amendment problem. But the law, in all its majestic equality, forbids the right, as well as the left, from sleeping in a publicly accessible park. Breaking the law may be an effective way to call attention to one's ideas, but that motive does not confer a right to do so.
On a related note: What ideas? Burning the flag is an act of symbolic speech that carries an easily comprehensible message: "I hate America." By contrast, camping out in a park, or screaming at a bank, is literally unintelligible.
Reich claims to be translating these actions and noises into English when he writes that the "core message" is "that the increasing concentration of income and wealth poses a grave danger to our democracy." That itself is a rather nugatory assertion, but it's also what Reich believes. We suspect he heard it in his own head, not in the screams of the San Francisco college students. There is no basis to credit the screamers with any thought. We assume they are merely stupid, ignorant, immature or all of the above.
The left's embrace of a "movement" based on nonsense is a symptom of its own intellectual bankruptcy. Drew Westen--best known for his massive New York Times op-ed in August calling on President Obama to govern by telling fairy tales, has more comedy gold in an online Times piece in which he puzzles over why Obama has so often delayed the taking of decisions and implementation of policies, ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to ObamaCare. He toys with the idea that it is a psychological defect:
Decades ago, psychoanalysts identified a particular personality style common among high-achieving men (although not limited to them), and in recent years researchers have been hot on its trail. People with this style (not narcissism, although that would be a good guess) prefer to see themselves as logical and rational, uninfluenced by emotion, and to think in abstract and intellectualized ways, as if emotions were irrelevant or inconsequential to decision making--when in fact they are essential to it. Whether that describes this president I cannot say, although he has been described by a close aide, and similarly by others, as "the most unsentimental man I've ever met."
"A second possibility," he writes, "is that the president either doesn't know or doesn't want anyone else to know what he believes":
During the 2008 election, I remember listening incredulously to focus groups as swing voters would repeatedly say about a man they had watched for two years, "I don't know who he is." Now I understand what they meant. No modern American president has ever managed to make it through nearly three years in the White House with so few people really having any idea what he believes on so many key issues--let alone what his vision for the country is.
Isn't the real explanation pretty obvious? Obama has multiple degrees from Ivy League colleges and spent a good deal of his career as a part-time professor. At Columbia, Harvard and the University of Chicago, he absorbed the politically correct nostrums of the academic left. But he didn't pick up much by way of critical thinking skills (although at least he doesn't scream at banks).
He didn't have to learn how to think, since he was thinking all the "right" thoughts anyway. So he came to office with lots of ideological preconceptions but no ability to adapt or innovate. As a result, he is simply in over his head intellectually--at the mercy of allies, opponents and events.
The other night we happened to catch Harvard's Laurence Tribe, a leading liberal legal scholar, being interviewed on television by Charlie Rose about the ObamaCare cases the Supreme Court had just agreed to take up. It struck us that Tribe, an enthusiastic booster of ObamaCare, seemed a lot less confident that the government would prevail than he was earlier this year.
Because so many intellectuals are on the left, the intellectual dissolution of the left over the past few decades has been easy to overlook. But really, with the exception of same-sex marriage, can you think of a single new idea that has come out of the left since Lyndon Johnson was president? The ObamaCare case illustrates the point beautifully: The so-called individual mandate was originally a conservative idea--though, to be sure, one of the worst conservative ideas ever. But whereas a progressive of Obama's age is at least capable of borrowing bad ideas from the right, the next generation screams at banks.