Once we had another president who was considered magical. Martin Van Buren was, in fact, called “The Little Magician.” Yet this was not because his policies were remarkably effective. They were not. It was because he was a skillful manipulator of the political spoils system.
It is in this latter respect, and another that is even less savory, in which Obama deserves to be regarded as talented. He too, it must be confessed, is addicted to rewarding his political friends. The unions, the solar energy industry, and the limousine liberals have all benefited from his generosity.
This said, it is as a prestidigitator where he really shines. No chief executive in living memory has been as accomplished in slight of hand as Obama — not even Bill Clinton. Barack’s ability to engage in “now you see it, now you don’t” tactics has been, as he would say, “unprecedented.”
Magicians work by misdirection. They focus an audience’s attention in one area so that they can make something else happen in another. What they achieve seems supernatural only because how it was done has been carefully hidden from view. It is in this that Obama excels.
What do I mean? Consider the president’s State of the Union address. He told us, for instance, that we must increase our investment in pre-school programs. This, he assured us, would be rewarded with $7 worth of economic growth for every $1 we expended.
Then the president went on the road to sell this “snake oil.” Accordingly, he touted his latest elixir by highlighting a Georgia program we were told is working splendidly. Wisely concealed behind the curtain, however, was research that demonstrates Head Start Programs produce no long lasting academic advancements.
Obama also plugged gun control by mourning the shooting death of an innocent Chicago teenager. In this case, he failed to note that Chicago has tougher gun control ordinances than almost any city in the country, but that this does not prevent it from being one of the most crime-ridden.
Among the other wily techniques in recent evidence were the president’s repeated allusions to helping the middle class, when the middle class is actually suffering; to increasing oil supplies, when his administration reduced the number of drilling permit’s issued; and to the “universally” acknowledged need for climate control, when not all experts agree.
But most important was misdirection concerning the budget deficit. Obama flat-out misspeaks when he tells us how much his administration has reduced spending and he flat-out lies when he says his multi-billion dollar programs will not cost a “dime.”
The president obviously does not want us to dwell on his budgetary excesses. We must certainly not count up his debts lest we realize they will soon usher us into the poor house. No, we must be so enchanted by his many glowing promises that we never ask about their cost.
I especially love it when Barack points to how much he will save by eliminating waste. At such moments I ask a question few others seem to ponder. What, I want to know, is this: If there is so much saving to be had from cutting waste, why hasn’t he done it already? After all, he has been president for four years.
What I also want to know is why so many Americans allow their attention to be diverted by secondary issues such as gun control. Why are they not scandalized by Obama’s dereliction of duty regarding the Benghazi scandal or his many unfulfilled promises about ObamaCare?
Are we as a people as easy to divert as children watching a Punch-and-Judy show?
The evidence suggests that we may be.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.