No one cares to make the connection, but it’s a glaring fact: Our most recent two presidents have whopping daddy problems. All men have some kind of daddy problem, but not all men have a whopping daddy problem. The Oedipal difference between George Bush Jr. and Barack Obama Jr. is that the former’s father was always somewhere in the surrounding environment, and the latter’s completely absent. Both presidents, however, were essentially abandoned as children by powerful men. Upon these gigantic, distant figures, the boys’ imaginations went to compensatory work.
For Bush Junior, the transformation of daddy into a manageable entity must have been impossible. Instead, Bush Senior had to be appeased and pleased. The son had to direct his filial aggression elsewhere, toward surrogates. Saddam may have been the anti-daddy, but he was also … daddy.
In Mr. Obama’s case, as he himself recounts in his autobiography, the son turned the father into a myth. Then he subjugated the father to his own emotional needs, and finally emerged as a mythic figure himself, greater, larger and wiser than his fallible father. According to Jonathan Alter’s indispensable book on Mr. Obama, Michelle Obama once said that “Barack spent so much time by himself that it was like he was raised by wolves.” Mr. Alter adds that Michelle’s “point was that like the mythical founders of Rome and other children of legend, Obama’s superior strength and resilience were in part the products of his self-creation.” Exactly right. Both the president and his wife no doubt believe that Mr. Obama resembles “mythical” figures who created themselves all on their own.
In the process of accusing Obama of being a traitor, D’Souza himself incites treason: His remarks amount to a call to assassinate the president.
Right there, as the shrinks like to say, is work to be done. No one, regardless of his station in life, creates himself all on his own. No one transcends his traumas and wounds. The idea that one can do so is a basic adolescent fantasy (and the hidden pratfall at the heart of our national myth). Rather, the most successful personalities find a place for their pain, usually at the expense of either work or love, for the sake of some degree of work and love.
By his own account, Mr. Obama’s life has entailed more trauma, displacement and confusion than that of any modern president. A politically ambitious man, he didn’t choose to write his autobiography. He had to write it in order to control his story before the media could. In Mr. Obama’s hands, an inner life of injury becomes a Homeric quest of the son for the father–never mind that just under the surface of his book lies a cold disdain for his negligent father.
Yet while some liberals swooned over the “literariness” of Mr. Obama’s autobiography, other people read it with rising panic. Individuals who have experienced in childhood, as Mr. Obama did, an absent father and a frequently absent mother often construct grandiose images of themselves as sovereign and autonomous–“raised by wolves”–and as perfect and all-conquering. When these inflated selves meet criticism or opposition, they flounder and withdraw into brooding inaction. Mr. Obama himself cannot bear to be disliked. “His friends were legion,” he writes about Barack Senior in his autobiography, tellingly ascribing to such stupendous popularity his father’s election as president of the International Students Association at the University of Hawaii. When the country resists his presidential ministrations, Mr. Obama is thrown for a loop.
To my speculating mind, far from being unflappable and serene, which are traits that Mr. Obama’s admirers like to attribute to him, the president is plagued by fits of depression that disable his ability to connect with other people and to make decisions. He exhibits the “beautiful calm of the hysteric,” to borrow a phrase from Freud’s teacher, Charcot. No wonder Mr. Obama’s strongest historical identification is with the depressive Lincoln, who was also jocular around his friends and publicly composed. Riven by his parents, Mr. Obama has projected his shattered nature onto America itself. He wishes to heal and save the country as though it were little Barack. The abandoning father forsook both America and Barack Jr.; in rescuing America, the son will restore his paternity and complete his destiny. Since his very identity is bound up with his love for his country, Mr. Obama’s psychic life must have the intensity of an emergency.
Though galleys for Dinesh D’Souza’s forthcoming book of psycho-political analysis, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, have been “embargoed,” as publishers like grandiosely to say, Mr. D’Souza has posted a description of the book on his Web site. There Mr. Obama is described as “an exponentially more dangerous man than you’d ever imagined.” According to Mr. D’Souza, “what really motivates Barack Obama is an inherited rage, an often masked, but profound rage that comes from his African father; an anticolonialist rage against Western dominance, and most especially against the wealth and power of the very nation Barack Obama now leads.” This anticolonialist rage against America is “why Obama’s economic policies are actually designed to make America poorer compared to the rest of the world. Why Obama will welcome a nuclear Iran. Why Obama sees America as a rogue nation worse than North Korea.” Mr. D’Souza comes to a dangerous conclusion: Mr. Obama “poses an existential threat to America.”
Treason is defined in the Constitution as “adhering to [America’s] enemies, giving them aid or comfort.” When he writes that Mr. Obama seeks to weaken America economically and militarily, describes our elected president as “dangerous” and, worst of all, declares that Mr. Obama “poses an existential threat to America,” Mr. D’Souza is accusing Obama of adhering to America’s enemies and giving them aid or comfort. Mr. D’Souza is calling President Obama a traitor.
In other words, Mr. D’Souza has painted an unhinged portrait of what he murderously believes is an unhinged president. His “thesis” is the most disturbing case of self-enclosed projection you will ever see. In the process of accusing Mr. Obama of being a traitor, Mr. D’Souza himself incites treason: His remarks amount to a call to assassinate the president. (But, then, Mr. D’Souza has elsewhere sympathetically described Osama bin Laden, America’s mortal enemy, as “a quiet, well-mannered, thoughtful, eloquent and deeply religious person.”) Talking about his book with Glenn Beck, Mr. D’Souza raised suspicions about the alienness of Mr. Obama’s name, yet he has never changed his own name, which in Hindi means “God of the Sun.” In an essay adapted from his book in Forbes, he writes ominously about Mr. Obama that “[h]ere is a man who spent his formative years–the first 17 years of his life–off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa.” But Mr. D’Souza himself didn’t come to America from his native India until he was 17. He waited 13 years before becoming an American citizen, and he wasn’t exactly over the moon about it when he did. Speaking about his decision to apply for American citizenship, he says that in America he experienced “an uncomfortable search for a congruence of values and principles. Was I really at home in the American system as constructed? I concluded ultimately that I was.” Well, the “God of the Sun” had to settle down somewhere.
Mr. D’Souza was never very enamored with American life. Commenting on the time he spent as an exchange student in Arizona, he said that “I viewed my exchange here as a sort of tourist spectacle.” He certainly doesn’t think much of American education. Attending high school in Arizona “was like going back to eighth grade, academically speaking,” he says. As for his decision to go to Dartmouth, he chose it “pretty much out of the catalogue.” He is every bit the overcooked caricature of Anglo-aristocratic superiority, every bit the pampered son of arrogant colonial parents, who fled their native Goa when India’s annexation of the former Portuguese colony threatened their status. One imagines that in cosmopolitan Bombay, Dinesh’s parents, Alan and Margaret D’Souza, could again ingratiate themselves with the socially powerful. They could once again pretend to be the type of superior, contemptuous, high-class people they aspired to be.
Do you think I’m being mean? Mr. D’Souza describes Mr. Obama’s father as a “philandering, inebriated African socialist,” someone who “drank himself into stupors, and bounced around on two iron legs (after his real legs had to be amputated because of a car crash caused by his drunk driving).” The Goebbels-like derision is indecent enough; and the inference that the son duplicates the father is alien to American mores. But the “existential” “danger” of this “God of the Sun” putting a president’s life in danger in order to express his own hatred of America is an insult to civilized life. It makes you wonder whether Mr. D’Souza’s type of congenital contempt is not the most whopping problem of them all.