Everyone knows the power of positive thinking – you imagine the best thing happening, you visualize it, you fill your mind with it so that it is not only real, it sort of has already happened. You make it so you cannot imagine anything else – no worst case, not even a slight disappointment when one or two details don’t work out. Those cannot happen, as your temporal dislocation is such that those less than ideal future outcomes simply didn’t happen – they’re not real. This sort of thing is far beyond hoping for the best, or being generally optimistic, or dreaming of specific good things to come. Those are passive. This is creating an active construct – the hard work of minutely detailed visualization, and then of walking and talking and living in it at all times. Many say this is the one and only real key to success at anything, fully inhabiting the world where your stunning success has already happened. This actually makes it happen.
Of course this is nonsense – the silliest sort of magical thinking – but it’s sold tens of millions of self-help books, most of which are variations on this general idea, tweaked for this target audience or that. Living like a billionaire temporarily separated from his funds does not, in and of itself, assure that soon – or relatively soon – you will become a billionaire, although it might be fun. There’s a bit more to it. And living as if you are devilishly handsome, suave, sophisticated and urbane, stylish and elegant, worldly and well-educated, powerful with powerful friends, and that women swoon at you feet, doesn’t make it so. People are naturally attracted to those who are self-confident – self-confidence is devastatingly charismatic, and some of that always helps. But most people are also repulsed by delusional braggarts – they don’t just roll their eyes, they run the other way. There may be a fine line here – you don’t want to cross it. Use George Bush as a model, or warning.
There may actually be a few instances where active visualization is useful, in spite of the almost universally accepted nonsense – basketball players say that carefully visualizing the free-throw dropping actually helps quite a bit, but that may be a motor skills and muscle-memory thing. Active visualization means you make the shots, most of the time. But unlike living your life as the billionaire your really are, or as God’ obvious gift to women, and to all humanity, the basketball player is in a closed system – it’s only him, and he controls everything. The rest of life isn’t like that. If you’re dying, visualizing that you are cancer-free doesn’t make the tumor disappear. It’s real enough.
So, who thinks this way? Yeah, yeah – you think of the right, the Bush crowd, and the neoconservatives with their magical thinking about Iraq, the cheap and easy war that would transform everything, where this that or the other wonderful thing was going to happen, or was happening – and then wasn’t and it didn’t. Or you think of the major economic thinkers on that side, like Phil Gramm, the fellow who advised John McCain – deregulate everything and step back while things flourish, and who now say there is nothing systemically wrong at all and all we have is a crisis of confidence, where people are whining and have talked themselves into mindless, paralyzing fear that’s ruining everything, so give businesses and the rich more freedom and lower taxes, as with the return of positive thinking all will be well. One side seems to have that active visualization thing down cold – think and it might be so, live it as if it is so, and it is so. And the Democrats are a dismal lot, who seldom say such things.
Now, self-confidence may be devastatingly charismatic, but with the last election there seems to have been a bit of a shift, back to realism if you wish, or back to reality. On October 17, 2004, a New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind quoted an unnamed aide to George Bush:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
You could look it up (and everyone agrees now that the unnamed aide was Karl Rove). But this time the reality-based community that Rove so easily dismissed rose up and defeated the active-visualization community – the country may have had quite enough of both absurd self-help books and delusional neoconservatives. The charisma wore off. People did roll their eyes and run the other way.
But if you really do believe that when you act, well, you simply do create your own reality, you’re not likely to change. And a few weeks into the Obama administration – with all its emphasis on careful analysis of empirical evidence and facing unpleasant realities – you have those now out of power, who consider doing either of those things defeatist nonsense, in the odd position of acting as if they’d won the election and everyone is still on their side. The idea is that if you act as if everyone agrees with you, they do agree with you. What Rove said to Suskind was the core of everything. This time, act as if you’ve won, and you have.
The Hill is useful for political detail, and January ended with them running the headline that congressional Republicans are “losing patience” with President Obama:
Republicans wrapped up their retreat Friday by signaling they are losing patience with President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) criticized the new administration on Friday, saying it had promised to reach out to Republicans on the Capitol Hill, but then offered an economic recovery package that included few, if any, proposals from the minority party. …
Earlier in the day, House Minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted he made it clear to Obama after the vote that Republicans would remain united if the final stimulus bill did not include tax relief increases and cut down on government spending.
Well, the adults in control often lose patience with the hapless kids who don’t know anything, and the tone here is clear – they are pretty damned fed-up with Obama, as everyone is. Act that way and it is so.
Steve Benen, seemingly a member of the reality-based community, comments:
1. Obama has bent over backwards to engage congressional Republicans – up to and including watering down his own stimulus bill – but they’ve had nothing constructive to offer, and have demonstrated no interest in cooperation.
2. When Republicans were in charge, their ideas failed on a catastrophic level. Now, as Obama tries to clean up the GOP’s mess, they’re demanding that Democrats embrace their failed ideas.
3. Voters saw the results of the Republican economic agenda, and handed the GOP a series of devastating national defeats. The failed, losing side usually doesn’t get to drive the national policy agenda.
4. When Republicans define “bipartisanship,” they describe a process in which they get what they want, reality be damned.
5. Republican arguments throughout the stimulus debate have fallen far short of coherence. GOP lawmakers have effectively substituted solipsism for lucidity, with arguments such as the Democratic drive to “turn the United States into France,” and the notion that Bush’s economic policies were a sterling success until Democrats took over Congress.
And yet, when Republicans get together to tell one another how right they are, they conclude that they’re “losing patience” with Obama.
I wonder what the weather’s like in Republicans’ reality.
Don’t worry – the weather there is fine. It always is. The only question is whether they can drag everyone into that reality, just saying it is reality. It’s worked before.
Of course this might not work with the Republican governors:
Most Republican governors have broken with their GOP colleagues in Congress and are pushing for passage of President Barack Obama’s economic aid plan that would send billions to states for education, public works and health care.
Their state treasuries drained by the financial crisis, governors would welcome the money from Capitol Hill, where GOP lawmakers are more skeptical of Obama’s spending priorities.
There is a problem here. With California forty-two billion in the hole, with the lowest credit rating of any state (tied with Louisiana) and thus unable to borrow any funds, and officially broke on February 1, unable to pay any bills or pay its employees, and with a Republican governor – well, you see the problem. Blocking the stimulus package, as specifically damning direct aid to states as not the federal government’s problem, creates Republicans who will say, hey, you guys lost, get over it, and face reality.
But Michael Steele started his term as head of the party with a huge acknowledgment that the Republican are in control and will stop this stimulus nonsense:
Let me start by saying, the goose egg that you laid on the president’s desk was just beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Now, folks, I know we’re in the era of bipartisanship, but it’s easy to be bipartisan when you outnumber the minority two to one. Anyone can be bipartisan then. But I thought it was very, very important that you sent a signal, and you sent it loudly and very clearly, that this party, that the leadership of this caucus, will stand first and foremost with the American people. You made it very clear that in order to grow through this recession, that you would not redistribute the wealth of the people of this nation. That you would empower them to earn it, invest it, save it, and spend it on their terms.
Okay then – they lost the election, decisively, but they stand with the American people and the American people stand with them. Say it and it is so.
Brian Beutler thinks about this:
When Ronald Reagan said “government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem,” it was a pretty bold statement. And for its boldness it helped form the basis of a generation of Republican political dominance. Perhaps that’s why, faced with the end of that dominance, some are wondering if maybe, possibly, Reagan didn’t go far enough…
And he notes this:
Steele couldn’t praise them enough, and at times, he was at a loss for words. “You and I know that in the history of mankind and womankind, government – federal, state or local – has never created one job,” he said. “It’s destroyed a lot of them.”
What? Beutler begs to differ:
I guess that means that when he was the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, he was unemployed. As were his staff members. As are, say, the 1.5 million or so active personnel in the United States armed forces. And so on and so on – all just as unemployed as the people who used to work for that great engine of job creation Lehman Brothers.
We all know whose interests most conservatives have in mind when they criticize the public sector. Sometimes it’s even defensible… there are functions that should be left to markets and functions that should be left to the government and functions where the choice isn’t all that clear yet, and when that’s the case we should experiment or debate or what have you. But you’d think that subtlety wouldn’t be lost on the new chairman of the Republican Party, who, for some reason, thought it would be a good idea, on his first day out, to publicly insult the huge number of people who work for the largest employer in America.
But you know the theory, if you say it’s so, it is.
Colbert King in the Washington Post can write Republicans Need to Remember Hoover, but they don’t much care. Hoover was real, and real doesn’t matter.
This week, House Republicans voted in lock step against President Obama’s economic stimulus package, using as one excuse their deep concern about the impact of government spending on the future debt burden of America’s “children and grandchildren.”
The GOP’s distress is little more than a political contrivance. Were the Republicans really putting children first, they would have supported a stimulus plan that sought to provide money to communities and people, create jobs, and put homeownership within reach of working families. …
Were House Republicans less obsessed with pandering to the right, they would have quickly noticed how today’s crisis is affecting children.
Reporters use “corporate layoffs” as shorthand for job cuts in the banking and auto industries, and by companies such as Home Depot, Sprint Nextel and Starbucks. The term, however, doesn’t come close to capturing the extent to which pink slips devastate households with mouths to feed.
Behind those huge, sterile unemployment numbers are children, shaken by the despair in the faces of laid-off moms and dads.
Grandchildren are hearing whispered dinner table conversations about grandparents whose losses in 401(k) savings will force them to postpone retirement.
And young adults aren’t blind. They see the closed stores in the mall. They have classmates who are losing their homes because the mortgages can’t be paid. They hear the stories of neighbors looking for work and not finding any.
Nearly 5 million people are receiving unemployment insurance benefits. “These are not just numbers on a page,” Obama said the other day. They are working people with families “whose lives have been disrupted.”
To quote Reagan himself, there he goes again, resorting to reality. Here is what King is emphasizing:
Hoover’s distaste for government, and his belief that business was the answer to the country’s economic tailspin, got Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt elected president in 1932. In their slavish devotion to Hooverism, today’s Republicans are repeating the mistakes that banished their party to the political wilderness in the ’30s.
… there’s a good chance that today’s children and grandchildren will look back from adulthood and see an era in which a Democratic president and Congress tried, at least, to help their families and communities. And, it’s a good bet they will appreciate the effort. There’s also a chance that those children will end up thinking no more of today’s comfortable-living Republican Party than their grandparents and great-grandparents thought of Herbert Hoover and his well-off crowd.
But you can always tell today’s children and grandchildren, when they look back on these days, that everything was fine, the economy thriving and jobs abundant – if these guy are still around, creating reality, as they say.
David Neiwert is frustrated, and opens up with both barrels:
What’s worse for Republicans is that not only have they not yet figured out how irrelevant they’ve become, they are even further from understanding the reasons for their irrelevance. They’re in deep denial about the direct relationship between their philosophy and the current economic debacle, and even more so the extent to which the public is finding their pugnacious, vicious, attacking style of politics increasingly repellent.
Neiwert centers on Rush Limbaugh:
Neil Cavuto is right when he defends Limbaugh by saying that of course, ideologically speaking, conservatives will naturally as a matter of principle oppose Obama’s policies. We understand that Limbaugh and other conservatives believe that Obama’s policies will fail and will vote and speak accordingly.
But he completely overlooks the problem with Limbaugh when he openly hopes Obama will fail: It’s one thing to believe a policy will fail and oppose it accordingly. It’s quite another to openly hope for it.
Most liberals, by way of contrast, believed George W. Bush would fail, and many predicted it; but it’s hard to find any of them, particularly leading Democrats, who were out there saying that they hoped he – and by extension, the nation – would fail after 9/11 because his policies were “fascist.” They opposed these policies in principle. Anyone who openly hoped for our military failure in Iraq, for instance, was in a tiny minority; but there were millions of us who opposed the war because we believed it was not only wrongheaded but doomed to fail. And we were proved right.
In fact, all this shouting is just cover for Republicans’ greatest and deepest fear: That Obama in fact will succeed. That progressive “socialism” (as they call it) actually will make people’s lives better, heal the economy, and get the nation back on its feet. That the nation’s working people will finally get a clear view of which side is on their side. That the public will finally see that not only is Conservatism an abject failure, it’s a fraud.
In the end, they are such deeply invested ideologues that they would rather see the nation fail than see that reality reach fruition.
Actually that may not be so. It’s not as much ideology as it is trying to master reality – to wrestle it into submission.
And there is also the idea that no one objected to George Bush’s actions and policies – no one at all – as something else was going on. Or so argues the Hoover Institute’s Peter Berkowitz in the Wall Street Journal with Bush Hatred and Obama Euphoria Are Two Sides of the Same Coin:
Now that George W. Bush has left the harsh glare of the White House and Barack Obama has settled into the highest office in the land, it might be reasonable to suppose that Bush hatred and Obama euphoria will begin to subside.
The key paragraph is this:
Bush hatred and Obama euphoria – which tend to reveal more about those who feel them than the men at which they are directed – are opposite sides of the same coin. Both represent the triumph of passion over reason. Both are intolerant of dissent. Those wallowing in Bush hatred and those reveling in Obama euphoria frequently regard those who do not share their passion as contemptible and beyond the reach of civilized discussion. Bush hatred and Obama euphoria typically coexist in the same soul. And it is disproportionately members of the intellectual and political class in whose souls they flourish.
Debra at Big Brass Blog comments:
All things considered, there is no way that Obama can do a worse job than Bush did. He doesn’t have a surplus to lose, he can’t start any more wars until the military is replenished and he’s not a babbling about nonexistent WMDs like the village idiot. Other than that the only skills I see from Obama so far have been a good deal of luck and having the right people help him out – which actually gives him the same start Bush had, except for the difference in IQ and that will probably keep Obama from doing as much harm as his predecessor.
But you see the meme developing – Obama is Bush, and both do what they do, and no one cares, but people are irrational, and it all will pass. That’s curious – say it and it is so. Use active visualization. Bush is no worse than Obama. Obama is no better than Bush. Rinse and repeat.
Ah well, delusion is seductive. But these guys may find out it used to be seductive. The thrill is gone.