Oh, I wish this was better. Westen makes some good points about voters’ desire for narrative, but then tries to tie those to policy criticisms that have nothing to do with political psychology, and at the end, he just straight-up recites the right-wing critique of Obama during the ‘08 election (“he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state” etc. etc.) without acknowledging this implies we should’ve voted for McCain instead. If he had kept the focus on political psychology, he could have talked a little more about voters’ tendency to continually reinterpret the past so that any present problems are placed out of their control. The public did it with the Iraq War, claiming that we were somehow duped into thinking Iraq had WMDs when that required a very willing suspension of disbelief. And now we’re doing it again with Obama. Westen describes “why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue” as a “conundrum.” But that is exactly what we wanted in 2008. We didn’t want another George W. Bush, another extremist who bulldozed policies through. Weliked Obama’s positivity, his ability to elevate the we without demonizing the other. That is what we wanted, and maybe what we needed. Now the consequences of that are becoming apparent, and if we don’t like that, well, then maybe we should re-evaluate what we want out of politics.
Because that’s really the issue here: what voters want out of politics. If Obama gave a rousing speech demonizing the bankers, it wouldn’t have done a damn thing about policy, it would’ve just made liberals feel better. For fuck’s sake, it’s not like the public likes Wall Street; if all we had to do to get financial reform through was to turn public opinion, we would’ve been there three years ago. The problems are, instead, with the political system - and the political system is the way it is because of who we’ve put there, and what we’ve asked them to do. The desire for Obama to give that rousing inaugural Westen fanfics out of thin air is one based in a desire for vengeance. It’s based in a very different set of needs. And those needs are important in politics; the way our national government represents itself is also a representation of us, and so we naturally want it to act symbolically in certain ways. But Westen doesn’t talk about that; he talks about policy, economics, regulations. It’s a different thing entirely. And it’s important. But it’s not what this piece is about.