A sign of an undisciplined mind is serial lapses into self-contradiction, or blurting out a thought only to refute it entirely on a later occasion. For a president to do that is to erode public confidence and eventually render all his public statements irrelevant. That is now unfortunately the case with Barack Obama, who has established a muddled record of confused and contradictory declarations.
Last week, the president invoked executive privilege to prevent the release of administration documents related to the Fast and Furious operation. All presidents on occasion use that tactic, but rarely after they have put themselves on record, as did Senator Obama just five years ago, damning the practice as a de facto admission of wrongdoing. Does President Obama remember his earlier denunciation — or why he thought a special prosecutor was necessary to look into the Scooter Libby case, but not the far greater mess surrounding Eric Holder?
About the same time, President Obama offered de facto amnesty for an estimated 800,000 to 1 million illegal aliens. Aside from his circumvention of Congress and his casual attitude toward his own constitutional duty to enforce the laws as they are written, Obama had on two earlier occasions stated that he not only would not grant such blanket exemptions from the law, but also legally could not. That was then, this is now — the middle of a reelection campaign?
Candidate Obama derided George W. Bush as “unpatriotic” for borrowing $4 trillion over eight years; what term might President Obama use to characterize his own record of borrowing $5 trillion in less than four years? “Extremely unpatriotic”? In his first year in office, Obama announced that he would deserve just a single term if the economy had not improved after his agenda was reified. What then is he to say to that earlier Obama when 8 percent unemployment is now in its 41st consecutive month, GDP growth is flat, and we continue to borrow $1 trillion per year?
As a candidate, Obama promised to play by the rules of public campaign financing, only to renounce that pledge when he was well on his way to raising $1 billion. Obama did not just promise to shut down Guantanamo and cease renditions, preventive detention, and military tribunals; he also denounced them in such venomous terms that his later embrace — or indeed expansion — of all these protocols was not so much hypocritical as surreal.
President Obama does not like filibustering in the Senate; Senator Obama apparently felt differently when he was in the minority and tried to stop a vote on the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. The list of the Obama about-faces and obfuscations grows weekly — the revolving door, lobbyists in the White House, the new transparency, opposition to super PACs, attitudes toward Israel, huge savings from Obamacare. And we are at a point now where no one can verify anything from the president’s past, given that his own memoir was largely mythographic — details about his family, friends, and girlfriends made up to enhance his preferred narrative of racial oppression. If a writer will fudge on the very details of his own dying mother’s seeking to obtain health care, then he will fudge on almost anything. And if the Birthers were unhinged for suggesting that Obama was born in Kenya, what are we to make of Obama himself allowing just that untruth to appear on his literary agent’s biography of him for over a decade?
What explains these weird disconnects? There are many contributory factors. First, Obama is a quintessential postmodernist, who believes that there is no abstract “truth,” only floating narratives that gain credibility by their aims — false if for ignoble reasons, true if spoken for egalitarian purposes. Obama would argue that his literary fictions were not actually fictions given that they served the cause of exposing racial bias — it is the intent that matters, not the details. The larger truth is that Barack Obama suffered angst because of his biracial identity; how, when, and where all that happened is immaterial.
Obama once really did lament that he could not legally offer amnesty, only to do just that; similarly, the use of executive privilege for a President Bush is not the same thing as for a President Obama. A statement can be judged true or false only by its ultimate objective — and in Obama’s case all his untruths must be true because they were intended to serve a progressive end.