Matt Taibbi: Obamania

I was particularly struck by his analysis of the now-infamous video of Sarah Palin book-buyers explaining to a snarky interviewer how they support her despite the fact that they can’t really identify any of her positions. Greenwald notes the obvious parallel:

“The similarity between that mentality and the one driving the Obama [supporters] is too self-evident to require any elaboration. Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. These are personality types bolstered with sophisticated marketing techniques, not policies, governing approaches or ideologies.”

I completely agree with Greenwald and I know that what he’s saying is true because I did exactly the same experiment the Palin interviewer tried — at Obama’s inauguration. I interviewed dozens of people and almost without exception the answers to the question “What specific policies do you expect the new president to enact?” were of the following character:

“I think he’s going to bring people together.”

“He really cares about us.”

“I believe that he’s going to help people.” […]

Anyone who wonders why the Obama administration seems to be bending over so far backwards to appease conservatives and industry leaders in the health care debate and Wall Street in the financial regulatory reform debate can find their answer there: those groups make Obama pay for their financial/political support with real actions and policy concessions, while Obama’s “base” will continue their feverish support in exchange for mere gestures and marketing hocus-pocus, for news about the new family puppy or an appearance on Jay Leno.

Matt Taibbi: Obamania

I suspect it runs a bit deeper than this – that everyone, including Taibbi and including me, chooses their politics based not on reason but on some calculus of social and cultural influence, personal preference, and individual psychological eneds and rationalizes it later (“what the thinker thinks, the prover proves,” as Bob Wilson said).


  1. “Mental projection occurs with this scientific materialist intellect. In the same way that the primitive mind, as a result of repression, projects its subjectivity (emotion, desire, etc.) into its material environment, so the scientific materialist intellect is compelled no project its own objectivity (i.e., rationality) into its human social environment, into human social consciousness; he is forced to assume, in other words, that the mass of people are becoming objective, scientific, rational and materialist, as a mass, as a whole. But, just as the primitive mind is right in a minority of cases only, so too, is the scientific materialist intellect right in only a minority of cases.”

    Harold Walsby, “Atoms and Ideology” 1938.

    See also “The Mass Rationality Assumption”

  2. Thank you for reminding me of George Walford’s work.

    To put my hypothesis (I’m sure already written about by many) in another way: people don’t believe things because they think they are correct, they think the things they believe are correct because they believe them.

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