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June 06, 2014 11:30 AM Mad Man

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t talk much at this site about the Obama Derangement Syndrome, for the simple reason that it has long become so familiar a phenomenon on the Right that it’s unremarkable. Yes, it’s worth speculating if and how quickly the Right’s hatred of the 44th president will be transferred to the next Democratic presidential nominee and/or Chief Executive, and always grim fun to speculate about why this man gets under his enemies’ skins so very much. For the most part, though, it’s just part of the landscape.

But occasionally you see an explosion of bizarre cultural rage aimed at Obama that is so intense it lights up the sky for a moment. One is currently being provided by the Washington Free Beacon’s Matt Continetti. In a column that begins with an quotidian series of complaints about Obama’s frustrating refusal to “deal with” the various scandals conservatives accuse him of creating or abetting, instead calmly enjoying fine dinners and cocktail parties even as brave patriots huddle in fear at the vicious denial of their tax-exempt status by the IRS and the unique horror of Benghazi! goes unvindicated. Contemplating Obama’s calmness, Continetti just plain loses it:

I like to imagine the conversations at these parties. How are they structured? Is there any awkwardness at the beginning? Does it take a few drinks to get things going? I imagine that there is plenty of hesitant and anodyne talk about children, about movies, about basketball, about the weather. When the discussion turns to domestic or foreign affairs, though, the clich├ęs must be stifling: How can the Republicans be so obstructionist and rude and luddite, what happened to the nice moderate conservatives they used to have in the Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush administrations, have you seen the latest essays by Ezra Klein and Michael Tomasky and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who cares what the media says, E.J. Dionne says you are doing A-OK, what’s it like to hold the nuclear football, have you been to Eric Ripert’s newest restaurant, weren’t the Afghan and Iraq wars terrible mistakes, people have got to recognize America can’t go its own way in today’s integrated, global, flat world, the Wire is Shakespearean, what are you going to do about the polar bears, we need to appreciate the value of other cultures, America doesn’t have such a clean record itself you know, my son just took a job in Dubai, wasn’t Sheryl Sandberg brilliant in her City Colleges of Chicago commencement speech, let’s touch base on the new youth outreach project Mark Zuckerberg is standing up, do you watch Mad Men, politics is a relay race and we just have to keep going until we hand the baton to the next person, where do you come up with all of those beautiful words, we leave for Beijing next week, Putin doesn’t understand how we do things in the twenty-first century, God that Bibi is so unreasonable, who are your favorite authors, it’s time for a real conversation about race, is Homeland like real life, this is the sushi place to go to in Los Angeles, you are a real role model for young men not only in this country but all around the world, I watch House of Cards but my wife prefers Orange is the New Black. … The earnestness, the posing, the sentimentality, the affected and knowing tones, the blather, the sanctimony, the insinuation, the phoniness, the small talk, above all the endless putting on airs before the most gigantic ego known to mankind—that wine had better be good.

The most interesting words in the above tirade are: “I like to imagine….” I bet Continetti really does like it, since it’s easier to hate people you don’t actually know when you declare yourself free to “imagine” what they are like up close and deep down inside. It’s also how you dehumanize people and turn them into cartoon characters in your own graphic novel version of The Decline of the West or Twilight of the Idols:

I for one can not help thinking of Nietzsche when I consider the drift and lassitude and emptiness of Obama’s post-presidential presidency. The sort of exhaustion we see every day was predicted long ago. “Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion,” wrote the German philosopher of the Last Men whom he predicted would appear at the end of History, would emerge when democracy was triumphant. These hollow-chested men, Nietzsche said, would blanch at the first site of difficulty. They would surrender and look inward, content to spend their days in the pursuit of pleasure. In Obama we have more than a Last Man. We have a Last President.

Lord-a-mercy, Matt. Get yourself some anger therapy, and stop treating the President of the United States and his imagined dinner partners as a projection of your cultural despair.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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