The Agreeable Mirror

When I was a kid, we went to a carnival where there was a funhouse. Inside, there were warped mirrors that distorted the viewer's image, turning an average person into a fat dwarf or a skinny beanpole, as well as twisting the facial features into a caricature. Last year, during the presidential primary season, we encountered something that was exactly the opposite. When candidate Barack Obama appeared on the scene, many people observed that his lack of a substantial resume made him a blank slate upon which people could project their hopes and dreams.

However, after some contemplation, I think it would be more accurate to say that candidate Obama was the reverse of those funhouse mirrors: When people looked into the Obama mirror, not only did it make them look taller, take off those extra ten pounds they were carrying around, smooth out their wrinkles and clear up their acne, but it also made them cooler, because when they looked in the mirror, they didn't just see themselves. They saw themselves with The One, arm in arm, hanging out with the cool black friend that they never had. They were ready to do their part to expiate the sins of white racism in America. 'Hope' and 'Change' sounded good, so it didn't really matter what exactly they meant. Right?

It is a fact of human nature that we tend to like people who agree with us about things more than we do those people who don't agree with us. In fact, in English, the word "disagreeable" is a synonym for "unpleasant." We know, of course, that we are intelligent and wise and have all of the correct positions on every issue, while those who disagree with us are not and do not. This is why their very presence is disagreeable to us.

So if we are told that a person is seven different kinds of wonderful, but with not much in the way of specifics, then if we have to fill in the blanks using only that information, we would have to think that he must agree with us on most matters of substance. We are good, so if he is good, too, then he must think like we do. This is what happened to the people who looked in Obama's agreeable mirror: "He's such a wonderful guy! I know all his campaign talks about is generic 'hope' and 'change', but I'm sure he agrees with me about everything!"

This is how each of the various constituencies of the Democrat party could think that President Obama was in full agreement with them about all of their personal pet issues. This is how Independents and even some liberal Republicans who couldn't stomach voting for John McCain could rationalize that President Obama would probably govern as a moderate, because that is what they personally would do were they in his shoes. They looked into the agreeable mirror and said, "Well, how much different could his views be from mine, if he's so agreeable?"

Obama was able to do this because he had served for less than one term as a U.S. Senator, and had spent much of it running for President. Senators often have trouble getting a presidential nomination because they have a long legislative record, votes for and against various issues, and they are known quantities. Obama, however, had not been around long enough to do so, and therefore was that 'blank slate' that the pundits talked about. He could be anything that you wanted him to be, at least until January 20th, when he had to start governing and actually making decisions.

And it was at that point that many people who had looked in the agreeable mirror months earlier suddenly realized that they no longer recognized the other fellow staring back at them. "This is not the Barack Obama I knew!" they cried, as he spent trillions of dollars bailing out Wall Street. Who could have guessed that all of the talk about bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle to Republicans was all just smoke and, well, mirrors? Who would have thought that he would appoint hard-left ideologues and govern from the left rather than from the center?

Well, just about anyone who didn't depend on the mainstream media for their information. Anyone who listened to talk radio or watched Fox News had a much better idea of who Barack Obama was: The Democrat with the most liberal voting record in the Senate, such as it was; a man imbued with liberal values by his family; and a man with many friends and associates who espoused very radical left-wing views. We can always hope that the leopard will change his spots, but it's not particularly likely.