One of the biggest dangers for any pol is self-delusion. It prevents honest self-evaluation, letting problems fester and jettisoning the chance for a course adjustment. It, moreover, can come across as gross cluelessness.
Two examples, one from President Obama and the other from Newt Gingrich, demonstrate the peril of a politician so enamored of his own greatness that he comes across as either lying or totally out to lunch.
Let’s start with Obama. Mike Allen of Politico reports that the president appeared at a fundraiser last night with Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, and told donors: “I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.” It’s hard not to blanch at the gall.
Does he actually imagine he’s been such a dear friend to Israel? Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition could not contain himself, tweeting: “Will the real [Obama] stand up. Is it the one who praises Israel in front of rich donors or trashes her with Sarkozy?” He later added that “one scenario (Sarkozy) shows what is in his heart, while the other scenario (rich Jewish contributors) shows political pandering.”
In the most favorable possible light, one could imagine that Obama was referring in the narrowest sense to the level of military aid and cooperation between his administration and the Israeli government. But, as I have written before, this slice of the relationship can’t be viewed in isolation and hardly makes up for the diplomatic damage done to the U.S.- Israel relationship.
But know as he does the anger and disappointment among Jewish Democrats concerning the administration’s conduct toward Israel, wouldn’t a smart pol forgo the self-congratulations, or at least ease up on the self-slobbering? Ah, but that assumes Obama truly understands the antipathy toward his Israel policy. More likely, he views this as merely a communications problem or the work of nefarious right-wing forces. In any event, he comes across as not only vain but tone-deaf.
An aside on a bit of inside-the-Borscht-Beltway politics: The left-leaning AJC, a shadow of its former self in the U.S. Jewish community, has been roundly criticized for its opposition to a broadly supported effort among Jewish organizations in the Zivotofsky passport case. A foreign policy staffer who works closely with national Jewish organizations on Israel policy cracked, “I think the biggest news here is that the American Jewish Congress still exists — I haven’t met anyone from that organization or seen anyone represent them on Capitol Hill in years. I have no idea what the organization works on these days but they certainly don’t work on U.S.-Israel security issues. I’d chalk this up to a self-aggrandizing statement by someone trying to make himself seem relevant in a game where he’s currently not.”
Meanwhile, in a different context, Newt Gingrich, who is fully capable of the same self-delusion (“I am not a lobbyist!”) was at it again, this time on Sean Hannity’s TV show. The exchange went like this:
HANNITY: “When you said about Paul Ryan and criticized his Medicare plan and right wing social engineering . . .”
GINGRICH: “Look, it was a technical mistake, but what I said was true. I was asked the question, should Republicans impose a plan if it is deeply unpopular. And I said something that was written about, right-wing social engineering is as dangerous as left-wing social engineering. I had a lot of my conservative friends mad at me, but in fact, Hayek wrote it because he was right. We have an obligation to explain to the country any major reform that’s going to affect their lives until they decide they are going to accept it. We don’t have an elitist ability to — we are all mad at Obama over Obamacare being imposed. Well, having a Gingrich plan being imposed wouldn’t be any better in principle because it’s still being imposed.”
A “technical mistake”? But hadn’t he, in Rush Limbaugh’s words, cut Ryan off at the knees? Oh no, Gingrich was teaching us about history once again. “When we passed welfare reform, 92 percent of the country favored welfare reform and therefore, you had the popular will to sustain it and I was trying to say something very profound and I frankly backed off because there was too much noise to communicate it. But I wasn’t talking about Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan is a very close friend. Callista has known him since he was an intern in a Senate office for Bob Kasten. He did a good job overall. I would approach Medicare differently. I would actually offer his Medicare choice next year, but I would offer it as a choice that people could take if they thought it was better for them, not as an imposition.”
Notice the arrogant condescension that his now-wife knew Ryan (before the affair that ended his second marriage) when he was a mere staffer. The arrogance, the lack of honesty and the absence of tact are breathtaking.
Really, why did Gingrich call to apologize to Ryan if he did nothing wrong? Does he still not understand how he sabotaged the entire GOP House caucus? (How exactly will this work if he is the nominee — he’ll climb on board the Democrats’ Mediscare bandwagon against his own House candidates?).
In the case of both Obama and Gingrich, they fancy themselves as the most brilliant man in the room. Their critics must be either mean-spirited or dumb. Their errors are likewise misunderstandings or the false concoctions of political foes. It is a quality that ill-serves them both and drives their own supporters to distraction. Such individuals aren’t amenable to reason or to constructive criticism. They know best. Except they don’t, and their arrogance and self-delusion make them dangerous people in which to invest political power.