The Barackholm Syndrome
July 27, 2011 § 5 Comments
On August 23, 1973, some bank robbers tried to rob the Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden. They barricaded themselves in the bank and held bank employees hostage until August 28, 1973. When the robbers were finally apprehended, their hostages identified themselves with their captors and supported their pleas for leniency.
In the field of criminology, this phenomenon has become known as the “Stockholm Syndrome”.
It appears to me that we are witnessing a variation of this syndrome in Washington. The poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the elderly and the working class are the objects of the robbery. The robbers are the Republican Party, led by the Tea Party. The hostages are the President of the United States and his political and economic advisers.
Like the Stockholm Syndrome, the Barackholm Syndrome has required a period of time to develop. It actually began soon after the election of 2008. The United States Senate, composed of a comfortable majority of Democrats, embraced a strategy of obstruction designed to thwart all efforts of the newly elected president to emplement the changes mandated by his election.
A minority of 41 Senators in a 100 member Senate consistently blocked all efforts to use the power of government to undo the results of the eight-year reign of George Bush. Those Bush taxation policies, labor policies and economic policies resulted in a degree of wealth inequality that exists in no other industrially developed country. The unfairness of those policies was so glaring, so extreme, that it is doubtful they could have survived a frontal attack led by a determined president making full use of his ability to control the channels of communication.
Those of us who were, and are offended by the Bush policies, waited expectantly for a trumpet to sound the charge. We were “emboldened”, to use the phrase so often heard from Bush/Chaney to describe the “terrorists’ if our Constitution were adhered to.
We thought that, having elected the first Black president, swept into office with rhetoric unmatched since JFK and FDR, we would be called into the streets, to marches on Washington, town hall meetings in public squares, demanding changes and reforms that would overwhelm the Republican nay-sayers. At a minimum, we expected that modern technology, the kind used by young people in the Middle East to rattle centuries-old plutocracies, would be employed to challenge the likes of Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor.
Instead, the President assumed a passive role, deferring to Senator Reed and Nancy Pelosi to conduct endless negotiations. Principled combat was characterized as “the same old Washington partisan bickering”. Leadership was equated with a kind of “turn the other cheek” posture, declining to say anything that might offend the GOP leaders who, in response maintained a non-stop attack on anything the President favored.
As this process went on for months, the Barackholm Syndrome was not yet apparent, although now, looking back, it should have been. We failed to diagnose it because we were still clinging to the hope that there was some master strategy at work that would, in due course, reveal itself.
In the course of the present negotiations concerning the debt ceiling, the symptoms have become too obvious to be ignored. The GOP’s right-wing, doubtless “emboldened” by the President’s record of docility, has launched the attack that has motivated it from the beginning: The destruction of the government that has existed since 1932: One that acknowledges that capitalism can only be tolerated if its occasional fits of “creative destruction” are met with economic policies of government that prevent wholesale destruction of working class family security.
This path to plutocracy, mapped according to Friedrich Von Hayek and Ayn Rand, as updated by Milton Friedman, is what they mean by “smaller government”.
Faced with this plain threat to the country we have lived in for the past eight decades, the President has chosen to equate people like me, who perceive the threat as being immoral and dangerous, as blameworthy equals to those who have made the threat. He speaks as though he is scolding school-yard scufflers and, in so behaving, grants legitimacy and honor to people who are proudly proclaiming their hatred for the government they were elected to represent.
This, at least to me, is evidence of a serious misunderstanding of the nature of political conflict. There are some who believe that the President is naive; that he believes that if he repeats reasonable arguments often enough, his opponents will eventually agree to reasonable resolutions . I would like to believe that, although it would mean that Barack Obama is so enthralled with his power of persuasion that he can be easily gulled by scams that would be greeted with horse-laughs by the average whittler-and-spitter sitting on a bench in front of an East Texas courthouse.
I have reluctantly concluded that President Obama actually believes that government can only be conducted on the basis of consensus; that effective government must, therefore, accommodate the views of all competing significant factions, regardless of how extreme, brutal or immoral those views may be. This looks like the Stockholm Syndrome to me.