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Review: The 12-Step Guide for the Recovering Obama Voter, by Craig S. Karpel
BROADSIDE BOOKS, An Imprint of HarperCollins, www.broadsidebooks.net.
Winston Churchill was a great speaker, but he really grabbed his audience with the power of his ideas, not good looks or personal charisma.
Churchill knew that charisma and superficially seductive arguments could undermine democracy, and he noted that democracy was an imperfect system but still better than any other.
One assumes that Churchill had in mind not only the mistakes of his own country, Britain, but also of Germany. Hitler came to power in a democratic setting, while Britain had elected the amoral Stanley Baldwin (who hid Nazi Germany’s rearmament) and the clueless Neville Chamberlain. Churchill could forgive Chamerlain, but he never forgave Baldwin.
When asked to eulogize Chamberlain, Prime Minister Churchill graciously agreed, but when told of Baldwin’s death, he said “Burn him, bury him, take no chances.” Churchill could never forgive the way Baldwin had cynically betrayed his own people and the democratic system.
Like Churchill, Sigmund Freud analyzed the power and danger of group psychology and mass movements in his late work, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Some of us could not help thinking of his work while watching crowds chanting, “Yes we can,” as some members of the audience fainted with emotion in the 2008 presidential campaign.
We Americans became intoxicated with a young African-American politician a few years ago, imbibing his charms. Four years later, we are having a hangover. His name was Barack Obama.
“Supporting Obama was like any other addiction: It felt good at the time, but we’ve been in agony ever since,” says author Craig Karpel. He describes the classic symptoms in this funny but penetrating account entitled The 12-Step Guide for the Recovering Obama Voter.
“Obamania had the classic initial features of addiction: the buzz, the rush, the flash, the high, the euphoric contentment,” says Karpel, adding, “and now we’re experiencing the inevitable comedown: the crash, the craving when the addiction isn’t satisfied, the misery of withdrawal.
Craig Karpel’s writing has its own seductive humor, but it is deeper than the speech of a charismatic leader. His analysis is rooted in the deep historical and cultural insights of that great observer, Alexis De Tocqueville, who wrote: “the great privilege enjoyed by the Americans is not only to be more enlightened than other nations but also to have the chance to make mistakes that can be retrieved.”
The author wants us to take a sober look-yes, sober is exactly the right word-at the choice of Barack Obama, and then to decide if we are happy with what we chose: yes, what we chose. It was our choice, and we should not blame Obama if we are disappointed.
“For us to blame Barack Obama for his presidency,” writes Karpel, “is in the same category as stubbing a toe on a rock and blaming the rock. It’s up to us to look where we’re going.”
Karpel’s method is structured along the lines of the AA-Alcoholics Anonymous-method that makes the alcohol addict admit his/her mistakes in a sober and honest way. This could have been tedious, but Karpel carries it off in a manner that has the reader laughing out loud.
The author walks a tightrope between keeping us laughing and his dead-serious objective of getting us to choose leaders in a sober-yes, there is that word again-manner.
“Voting sobriety,” says author Karpel, “means never again casting a ballot in a presidential election without carefully examining the background, character, career, and plans of each candidate.”
One can almost hear Karpel poking fun of the famous line from Eric Segal’s Love Story-“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Karpel is saying, “never having to say you’re sorry” for whom you voted means “not falling in love” but making a sober assessment.
“Voting sobriety means never again casting a ballot in a presidential election for a candidate who doesn’t have a compelling record of numerous, specific, significant accomplishments-not just a high-concept life story and a drop-dead résumé.”
Karpel shows beautifully that many Americans voted for Obama by suspending their usual skeptical and healthy sense of disbelief in all politicians and instead treated Obama as a kind of national healer or messiah whose very election would prove that America had atoned for earlier sins, such as slavery or racism.
That is the telling image: Change we can believe in, a leader we can believe in, a faith healer.
We were supposed to believe in Obama’s magical healing powers. Some of us saw a snake oil seller but were too scared or too shy to make our voices heard, including the Republican candidate in 2008, John McCain, who refrained from focusing on Obama’s real record or Obama’s real-life mentors.
Instead, McCain and others also refrained from poking fun at the religious anointment of Obama as national healer-in-chief which included a campaign symbol that was “a pseudo-transcendent symbol, that has been a feature of every mindless ‘cult of personality’ from Lenin to Che.”
As Karpel remarks, “Arenas transubstantiated into profane megachurches thronged with secular congregations chanting in response to the candidate’s litany of soaringly rhetorical questions a faith-healing mantra: ‘Yes we can!’”
One can only nod sadly in agreement with Karpel when he observes, “If it involves responsive reading, it’s a religion.”
Most voters paid no attention to Obama’s totally absent record of performance in any position he had previously held: an Ivy League student without an academic record, a law instructor who wrote an autobiography (largely fictional) rather than a legal analysis, a legislator who voted “present,” a senator who immediately ran for president.
Throughout his well-paced narrative, the author shows a trenchant wit and a laser-like ability to highlight and then magnify the telling trend or detail. He shows, for example, how anti-religious stalwarts of Obama nevertheless speak and act with all the illiberal fervor of a medieval Church inquisitor, damning all Republicans and conservatives to purgatory.
People who are going to vote for Mitt Romney should read this book for the sheer joy of a fine analysis laid out in the kind of direct and humorous language that seems to cause an allergic reaction among established Republican politicians, especially in the Senate.
Good writing and analysis needs support even in election years.
People who think that Obama is the greatest thing since sliced bread should show the confidence of their beliefs and take Karpel’s challenge to test themselves, if they have not become unwitting addicts.
But this book is actually best suited for independent voters with doubts about Romney and Obama. Those independent voters need to understand that this election is not just about a choice between two men or two parties but between two visions of the American democratic system.
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