The Shape Shifter

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to The Shape Shifter

  1. David Yates says:

    The disclaimer at the end of this is interesting: “Audio has been edited and often does not reflect Mitt Romney’s original meaning.” So why should we be watching it?

  2. Staffan says:

    I think you feelings for Obama and this negative campaigning could actually be construed as a form of authoritarianism. The relative lack of talk of Obama suggests that he doesn’t need to be justified – being the legit authority that we all should submit to. Didn’t you even say something to the effect that Romney was a bad person for even running against him? And all this focus on Romney, in a rather aggressive tone – isn’t that just the aggression against those who oppose the legit authority?

    At any rate, negative campaigning makes the act of voting an act of hatred. In the long run it will undermine everything you say that you stand for.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      If Obama was primarily authoritarian in manner and behavior and I loved him, I’m quite certain that would make me an authoritarian. In his deferential manner and in his policies, he’s generally not.

      For example, when Muslims wanted to build a mosque not far from the site of the twin towers, he showed respect for diversity and freedom of religion and did not set out to shut their use of purchased property down. That’s him being Thomas Jefferson, not Hitler.

      With regard to women’s right to equality and privacy, he does not try to fence them in on matters of work, sex, and reproduction; in terms of gay equality of citizens, he ended DOMA in the military and supports gay CIVIL marriage. These are not the positions of an authoritarian.

      Obama seems to me not especially religious, and so he doesn’t generally try to impose his conscience on others. Again, this suggests to me that he’s not authoritarian.

      A key element of the authoritarian personality (in my view) is a belief in unbridled social Darwinism (whether national or individual). If hierarchy is far more important to you than democracy or equality, then you’re probably an authoritarian.

      But this doesn’t leave the left-leaning person off the hook. If equality is far more important to you than respecting just hierarchies, then you’re probably an authoritarian as well.

      The question thus becomes: what’s a just hierarchy, and how does one balance hierarchy with equality? If you simply reject the dilemma, or side with one side to the exclusion of the other, your policies are likely to prove authoritarian in the sustaining of them.

      I think anyone who honestly wrestles with the question is inherently not authoritarian. Obama obviously wrestles with the question in himself, and I think honestly. I’m far from certain this is the case with Ryan. I don’t know what Romney wrestles with inwardly. He’s opaque.

      Also, if you don’t really care about humanity as a whole, but only what goes on in your own nation, and if you don’t care what happens to the poor, these are markers, I believe, of the authoritarian personality. Also, if you don’t care about your nation, but only humanity as a whole, and if you don’t care what happens to the rich, these are also markers of the authoritarian.

      I just don’t see a lot of either of these impulses in Obama.

      There are authoritarian aspects to Obama, and this will be true of any politician who wrestles with the inherent conflict between liberty, equality, rights, and majority rule. I’m ambivalent about where he draws the line on some things, but I generally think he tries to strike a reasonable balance. I’ve criticized him when I’ve thought otherwise. Anything beyond a flat tax could be labelled “authoritarian,” as could Obama’s mandated purchase of health insurance or any state that makes individuals carry car insurance to drive legally (which is all of them).

      By contrast to Obama, Cheney and Bush were clearly authoritarians, and a lot of authoritarians salivated to them.

      I don’t mean to sound obnoxious, and being negative about somebody is ugly, but sometimes you have to say exactly what you think. I think that Romney is a bad man. Could you act like him and say opposite things so shamelessly? And, if you were a rich man running for president, would you withhold your taxes from the public? Never talk about your religion? Never speak of your overseas bank accounts? Never, in short, offer any information that would give voters the power to evaluate you?

      Conservatives are shocked–shocked!–that Obama and his supporters refuse to roll over and play dead this year. After four years of the most malicious right-wing abuse of the nation’s first black president, I, for one, have had enough of the unjust critique.

      I believe that Romney-Ryan are the sworn enemies, for example, of gay people and gay equality in the United States, and I do not want people in the White House ever again whose psyches can function in that sort of authoritarian and callous way towards them.

      The money involved this year is appalling. We live in a plutocracy, not really a democracy. Romney will have two billion dollars to swift boat Obama and Obama will have a billion dollars to counter-swift boat Romney. But what I say here at my blog is what I think. I think Romney is a bad man and that, if he wins, we will be giving the presidency to a bad man. Nothing may come of it; he may still do the job outwardly proficient with some things I agree with and others not. But there’s something wrong about him. Is he a borderline psychopath? Maybe. He seems to be without genuine feeling. At minimum, he’s a classic narcissist (hiding his inward thoughts perfectly even as he glad-hands you). That proficient split in his psyche is troubling. He’s a “master of mendacity.”


      • Staffan says:

        Obama is not an authoritarian. But I wasn’t talking about him; I was talking about your attitude towards him. That attitude seems very emotional which is usually how authoritarians relate to their leaders.

        “A key element of the authoritarian personality (in my view) is a belief in unbridled social Darwinism (whether national or individual). If hierarchy is far more important to you than democracy or equality, then you’re probably an authoritarian.”

        But – correct me if I’m wrong – didn’t you say something to the effect that Romney is a bad guy just for running against Obama? That implies that hierarchy is more important.

        I agree that Obama is probably a more honest man who promotes certain values and ideas, whereas Romney is mainly promoting himself. But the way you focus on him is the same way authoritarians focus on the enemy. Romney’s character or the right-wing “abuse” is not pretty. But when you take that as an excuse to attack Romney then you are defending a person, the leader – the authority.

        When you say Obama is like Jefferson and Romney is a psycho you are playing the same game as when Republicans say they are the real America and Obama is a Muslim. Doesn’t matter much if you are right and they are wrong because the big problem is what this way of debating does to the political climate.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        I can’t deny it. I may be trying too hard to defend Obama. And I’m fawning over a man with a lot of Beatles-like glamour attached to him, so this may indicate that I’m under a spell akin to Dostoevsky’s “miracle, mystery, and authority.”

        But go back to 2008 (regardless of who you voted for). There’s something about the American narrative that was leading up to the triumph of a black president–of an absolute determination to move in a direction beyond race, beyond a poisoned history of slavery, and beyond segregation. And here is a decent human being, Barack Obama, ascending to the presidency and the right HATES him and wishes him ill. From day one, they didn’t want him to succeed and their political goal is now, at minimum, to deny him a second term.

        I don’t understand the psyche of the person who can feel that way toward Obama. If you don’t want him to win because of his policies, that’s one thing. But the naked white hate and the naked determination to return America to the hierarchical arrangements of the 1950s is where the authoritarianism lies (not in a liberal basking in Obama’s glamour).

        And it’s a bit of a double-bind to say that I can’t be enthusiastic for a side without being an authoritarian. Must irony be the only proper stance of the (small ‘d’) democrat? The right is ironic about Obama in a hard and hateful way and you’re suggesting that the only proper liberal response is soft irony in defense.

        This all may be anxiety induced in me. I truly don’t want to see the country return to Bush-style governance (wars and rumors of war; blank checks to the rich; torture; gay-baiting; religious authoritarianism), and the election is less than three months away. To lose this election would feel like a return to the national narcissism and authoritarianism of the Bush years, and the rolling back of key cultural gains. And I don’t have to be enamored of Obama’s glamour to think it’s important that a Democratic president and a Democratic -controlled Senate picks the next Supreme Court justice.

        It’s a big election and Obama is at the vanguard of certain values I care about (not least of which is a respect for science and not having authoritarian leaders).

        I’m obviously swinging, at my blog, between posts about heaven (Mars) and posts about Earth (the election) right now. It’s times like these when I don’t know whether it’s best to enter the political fight or flee the Earth.

        As the election nears, I’m starting to feel pessimistic and demoralized. Romney’s big donors and Karl Rove’s hatchet group will probably put him over the top. I suspect Obama will lose regardless of how liberals fight (fair or foul), and the right will have its new day, holding Obama’s head up (metaphorically) as a trophy to their well-strategized cynicism and maliciousness. But it won’t come without my protest.


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