Has there ever been a president less well equipped to deal with reality than Jimmy Carter, and thus a president more damaging in his role as president of the United States relative to the full context in which he occupied that office? I have my doubts.
Many pro-freedom Americans would say that Obama is the worst president in American history, and that may be true in absolute terms. But when I judge a president historically, I judge him in relation to the reasonable alternatives available at the time and relative to the social and geo-political context in which he acted. Thus when I look at Obama, I ask myself, “How bad is he–relative to the alternatives that were available? How much of a difference will it have made to have Obama in office? In my judgment, John McCain would have outwardly been quite different, but like Bush before him, he would have strongly expanded the power of the state as well, probably along different lines, but with regard to fiscal & monetary issues there would have been no essential difference, and with regard to the expansion of the financial-espionage complex, he would have been no better (probably worse) than Obama too. Maybe healthcare nationalization would be slower. Maybe Iran would have been confronted (which would definitely be one good thing), but overall, the outcome of a McCain presidency would not have been that different overall, and it certainly would not have forced the Republicans into some soul-searching about what they stand for (not that it matters) . And then there’s Mitt Romneycare. He would have been just as bad as Obama, if not worse, especially because everything he would have done would have been labeled “capitalism.”
Judging how damaging a president has been to America involves weighing the alternatives that were possible, leads me back to two of my top candidates for “worst president in American history:” Teddy Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter. Relative to Teddy Roosevelt, as a crucial example, how would William Jennings Bryan (the Democratic presidential nominee in 1900) have performed? To my mind, America was still in a kind of cultural ferment at the time, creating a context in which a president was in a position to be more of a leader and steerer of the culture, and where presidential doctrines in foreign policy, especially, could well have been decisive for generations, and thus hugely impactful on the trajectory of America through history. In light of this, the fact that Bryan was an anti-imperialist is very significant. It’s quite possible that as president he would have contributed to a series of impactful precedents in American conduct that would have radically altered the cultural path dependency of America at the time of World War I. There is no way to *know,* but at the turn of the last century, American culture was in flux, and smallish differences in conduct with regards to the Philippines, Cuba, Panama might have had a magnified significance in relation to America’s response to the a fundamentally *European* war, within a span of time during which hugely significant events were transpiring, causing massive long-term differences. Call it the William Jennings Bryan Butterfly effect.
And then there is 1976. However problematic a Ford/Dole administration (the Republican alternative at the time) would have been I am pretty confident that such an administration would have acted much more approximately correctly in response to the Iranian Revolution, and that the whole course of America’s Islamist Entanglement would have been radically different–for the better. Again, even a relatively minor difference would have yielded a magnified effect in the long run, given the circumstances.
The essence of this point is not the relative merits of the presidents. It is merely an “invitation to treat” the issue of what I call the “coordinate” impact of a president (and by extension, any person, institution, nation, etc.) given his identity relative to the reasonably viable alternatives. (Not–one must stress–relative to George Washington! There’s no point in torturing oneself too much with the whole “What would the other George do?” question. He ain’t around. Get used to it.) Given the historical “coordinates” of the presidents, how much did differences in their attributes–which conditioned their choices and actions (you know, the whole “entities act according to their identity thing”)–alter the timeline given the full historical context?
It is a highly abstract causal question, and given that history is dead, and thus there is no science of coordinate abstractions, let alone any modeling systems relating to such, like an Asimov-type “psychohistory,” I don’t have anything other than an educated guess.
Still, in am convinced that one major factor that doomed America to the seemingly impenetrable complexity of the Islamist Entanglement was Jimmy Carter’s woefully inefficacious otherworldly mode. By contrast, a D1 mode, such as Ford/Dole administration with the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in the administration might well have led to a powerful response to the Iranian situation, possibly even an abortion of the institutional rise of Islamism there.
What was Carter’s mode? Here is an elegant illustration, from an excerpt from the Playboy interview with Carter, from 1976:
“Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. The Bible says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Christ said, I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery. I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times….”
This by itself is pure “idealism,” in the true metaphysical sense of the term. For Carter, abstractions are real things. For him, to cheat in one’s “heart” is to cheat in a reality that is just as real–actually *more* real–than this one we live in.
How could such a sinner cast the first stone against Iran?
Obviously, he couldn’t, and didn’t.
I don’t have the stomach to recount the events of 1979 here. If you don’t know them, you better frickin’ get busy living–or get busy dying, as Andy Dufresne said in the Shawshank Redemption. You certainly will be doing one or the other based on your choice in the mater.
What I want to focus on with a modoscope is the so-called “Carter Doctrine,” enunciated in January of 1980, which for all the clouding verbiage surrounding it amounts to the following passage:
The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil…
This situation demands careful thought, steady nerves, and resolute action, not only for this year but for many years to come. It demands collective efforts to meet this new threat to security in the Persian Gulf and in Southwest Asia. It demands the participation of all those who rely on oil from the Middle East and who are concerned with global peace and stability. And it demands consultation and close cooperation with countries in the area which might be threatened.
Meeting this challenge will take national will, diplomatic and political wisdom, economic sacrifice, and, of course, military capability. We must call on the best that is in us to preserve the security of this crucial region.
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
This is a modally inconclusive series of statements in and of itself, with some reference to vital American interests (pretend I), but it ultimately tilts to M2 abstractions: economic sacrifice, collective efforts, and global peace (as an abstraction, obviously, not a real possibility).
Even with regard to “America’s vital interests,” we see M2 peeking out from behind the curtain. Carter seems to be taking a stand. But considered in full context, it is appeasement because the reality behind the words “by any means necessary” is that Carter considers appeasement to be one–indeed the primary–means. Carter, as a true M2, tried to stop the Soviets by telling them that they can have Afghanistan for the price of the US not sending its team to the Olympics, as long as they don’t cause more trouble. Pretty please. (Appeasement in foreign policy, as in personal life, isn’t necessarily modal. It can just be religious in nature, if the person enacting it doesn’t have any philosophical mode. But when it is modal–and with presidents, it is–it is fundamentally M2 driven, because it is based on non-rational moral ideals, especially a conceptual commitment to the notion that the bad guys will not be bad guys, because turning the other cheek is miraculously superior to justice.)
Being quite confident in advance that Carter was M2, it wasn’t hard for me to find M2 in his “doctrine,” so I asked myself whether or not I wasn’t just suffering from a little confirmation bias, and I decided to try to disprove my view. For the sake of a thought experiment, I did my best to see if I could read the Carter Doctrine as a D1 document, to see it as the mind of a “knowing skeptic” contending with the world by carving it up into a variety of ones in the many.
It didn’t work, but it led me to an interesting problem.
One thing that set off alarm bells was the D-looking “let me be clear” phraseology (for which Obama is notorious). When used by presidents over the past 40 years of D government, this catchphrase in all its variations, such as “make no mistake about it,” typically signals an oncoming soundbite that is meant to stand alone as a self-contained (and typically non-integratable) assertion to represent the nominal connotation of a presidential “discourse.” It is what the journalists are supposed to quote.
Here is a classic Obama-ism of that sort:
“Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
That anyone can hear this and take it seriously is staggering to me. As if the Palestinians have ever demonstrated any basis for being remotely conceived of as being capable of participating in such a scheme. Abstract pronouncements like these by Obama are designed to provide the appearance of idealism while the speaker knows damn well that no such outcome can ever happen. This is the kind of stuff that makes so many people sure that Obama is just a liar. It just seems like he cavalierly says things that aren’t true.
While I don’t doubt that he is a liar, in that he consciously deceives the people that he cannot but look down upon as infantile mentalities for having elected him, I also think that Obama’s ability to make statements disconnected from all possible rational meaning is actually more of a psycho-epistemological psychosis. I think that Barack Obama in true Kantian fashion, quite literally does not know how to connect (high-level) concepts to reality, because he does not believe it is even possible.
I know it is hard to fathom, and I can understand anyone who refuses to cut Obama any slack, but I honestly think that he has such a profoundly irrational mode that he not only uses M-based mis-integrations (such as “self-determination” as a foreign policy absolute) as his primary mental file folders, but then he dis-integrates those!
This is something Leonard Peikoff never mentions in the DIM Hypothesis! A mixed mode involving both M and D!
To me this makes complete sense as a coordinate phenomenon in light of the trajectory of American foreign policy.
When Leonard Peikoff talks about mixed modes, he explains in his own words that modes are coordinate phenomena. To use more conventional lingo: modes evolve within a historical context. So, for example, you don’t get D1, until you have Newtonian I, and it is penetrated by Kantian D. D1 doesn’t exist as some kind of reified abstraction or Platonic essence. It is an emergent historical entity, which we identify by a process of abstraction.
So why doesn’t Peikoff discuss M penetrated by D?
It seems obvious to me. It was an objective coordinate judgment on his part! In other words, it just doesn’t seem to exist with sufficient cultural weight to matter.
Or doesn’t it?
In fact, might this not be a very possible cultural outcome for America, and — I hate to say it — the worst possible one!
If we are in a D – M culture war, isn’t a D – M mixed mode cultural outcome possible?
Are there D – M syncretists out there now?
I actually think that that is what Obama is (and McCain and Romney too)! The abstract content of Obama’s thinking reeks M2 — thus he appears to be an idealist — but he is primarily a D intellectual.
So the result is dis-integrated mis-integrations–an almost unfathomably awful outcome to a rational mind.
Now, when you have a mixed mode, there is inevitably a hierarchy established between the two in the mind of the thinker. One mode sets up a kind of metaphysical terms of reference, and the other mode dominates the epistemological coping strategy. So, for instance, Enlightenment I says that this world is real, and Kantian D says, “Yes, but of course, we don’t really know anything about it, because we are conscious, so we have to keep our abstractions humble.”
In the same manner, which is what I see with Obama (and Jimmy Carter to a lesser extent) is that M2 sets up the metaphysical reference frame. Abstractions for them both are otherworldly. And then, because those abstractions bear no connection to reality, like presidential demi-urges, they must stuff them into this-worldly compartments according to the D mode.
The Soviets invaded Afghanistan? Oh, then, we won’t send our team to the Olympics!
I mean, truly, this is a classic! Worthy of Obama.
Notice that this is not M1.
Eisenhower was M1. Nasser wants the Suez Canal? Oh. Here’s how we have to think of that: the Soviets are dangerous and we have to contain them. So we need to apply Truman’s M2 to a very real this-worldly security situation. Eisenhower didn’t say to Egypt: You want to take over the canal? Well, we’re going ban publication of travel guides featuring the pyramids! He definitely mis-integrated, but his screw-up had an I component, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.
By contrast, when an M-D mind encounters a cognitively challenging this-worldly situation, it just completely malfunctions.
Justice Roberts, is Obamacare unconstitutional? No, it’s a “tax”.
I mean, did you see that one coming? That’s D-M. It’s so messed up, you could not have imagined that kind of cognitive contortion.
Hey History Channel, what is history? Pawn stars and UFO hunters.
You get that history is about the past. Right? I mean, if you just dis-integrated it, by showing us disconnected episodes about the past like you used to, it would be boring, but it would at least be history. But UFO hunters? Are you out of your mind?!
This is the kind of stuff that I think Leonard Peikoff, as the nearest person I can think of to a genius, just cannot look at. I think, literally, he does not know how bad it is, because he can’t bring himself to look. I think a lot of the older Objectivists are like this. They look around and say: oh well, I’ve only got a few years left, myself. I don’t need to worry about. It’s someone else’s problem. I’ll just work on the stuff I like.
And who can blame them? Our modern culture is shit. (I just chuckle to myself when I think of the image of Leonard Peikoff watching Wolverine.)
Anyways, to bring this unpleasantness to a close for now, I now have a standing order to be on the lookout for D-M. I am not certain that there is a coordinate basis for the “Other-worldly Compartmentalists” category to be added to DIM? And if there is, I don’t look forward to it on two fronts.
One. If there is a hole in DIM, and I insist upon it, I’m sure I won’t win any friends. (Not that anyone cares about whether DIM is “open ended” or not. Ain’t nobody going to be yelling at me for being some kind of small “d” dim-wit instead of a big “D” DIM-wit.)
And two. Who on Earth would care to rank the prospects of a D2, M2, or a D-M mixed-mode dictatorship?
You’re helically wrapped around an axis on an inclined plane either way.