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.

§ 5 Responses to The Barackholm Syndrome

  • Jim Kubiak says:

    Bob, i believe you have described the current situation perfectly.

    I wrote this several months ago and I believe it dovetails with your identification as a form of Stockholm Syndrome:

    At the heart of the matter is the fact that President Obama is a “pleaser”. It likely is a result of his having been raised by two “strong women”.

    Here is a description of a “Pleasers” from a behavioral point of view.

    “Pleasers” are very adaptable to any situation. They can fit in anywhere in any type crowd. “Pleasers” will act the way they think other people expect them to act. They are very good at “reading people” and then know how to act around them.

    They will do whatever is necessary to avoid another person’s negative responses, even if it requires negating their own feelings (positions).

    This behavior pattern to get “peace at any cost” was learned earlier in situations where not doing so brought on painful disapproval, anger, ridicule, guilt, indignation, jeers, humiliation, etc. The price they pay for acceptance from others is loss of their emotional power to fulfill their own wants.

    They feel that they can somehow “fix” life’s upsets by giving in to other people’s needs and wants.”

    This is why President Obama is such a great candidate and why people warm to him on a personal basis.

    It is also the reason that he is ill-equipped to negotiate with people like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.

    President Obama tries to “please” Boehner and McConnell who are both mean-spirited, un-yielding, sociopaths with no conscience. He will continue to lose in this battle, as he plays by an entirely different set of rules.

    This behavior pattern is not going to change because President Obama is who he is.

    The only solution that I can think of is that President Obama needs his own SOB, who is present at all negotiations and who confers with him during breaks in the negotiation sessions and draws the lines for him to mouth when they return to the table.


  • Jim Simons says:

    Bob, I agree completely. But the question might be asked: what should we do about it? We start with the premise that Obama does not represent us and he never will. Running a liberal against him in the Democratic primary is one possibility. I believe that would fail. He’s a sitting president and has raised millions. The party itself is suffused with centrist politics. The voters who would be key to beating him will not be voting in the Democratic primary–the young, independent and alienated. It seems to me the historical conditions may be right for a third-party candidate running in a party unashamedly liberal. I have not put much stock in electoral politics for some time. But if we don’t somehow stop this roll to the right, we may lose every advance and important social institution we have achieved since the New Deal. We will be on the road to a true oligarchy.


    • Bob Hall says:

      I don’t know what to do. Tom Friedman has published a couple of articles backing a third party named Americans Elect. Their web site is The headline of Friedman’s first article about this group was “The Radical Center”, which does not encourage me.

      I don’t know what to think of this organization. Their ideas are interesting, but it is hard for me to fit them into our political and legal framework. Of course, they are about changing the nature of those frameworks and that is a truly radical idea. I just don’t know what kind of government the organization’s methods and procedures would produce. The internet and the “social media” are exciting phenomena but we are discovering in the aftermath of the uprisings in Egypt that when the street-mobs succeed in forcing changes, at some point the population demands orderly government. In Egypt that, so far, results in a major role for the army.

      My initial reaction to the americanselect idea was that it might well defeat Obama but is unlikely to elect a president. No matter how disgusted I become about Obama, I am not yet ready for a solution that produces President Perry. In 1968, I was so angry at Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson that I voted for Dick Nixon. I learned my lesson and shall not do that again.

      Chandler Davidson sent me an email a few days ago suggesting that liberals should launch their own Tea Party-like effort. In the 40’s and 50’s the American for Democratic Action served as a voice for that kind of effort. The ADA was able to influence the Democratic Party to some extent because, in those days, the nomination process was based on conventions, not primary elections. The internet, FaceBook and Twitter may afford a means of exercising power without relying on elected officials. The attractive aspect of this technology is that it is free. It might be to the money-powered corporate forces what the bow and arrow made from yew limbs was to mounted armored knights in Britain. I don’t know.

      I do know that if the present trend continues, America will become more and more like Mexico and less and less the country in which I want to live.


  • […] out of hiding and parades in neat rows from the White House to Capitol Hill. But here’s a post sent along by a friend about the “Barackholm Syndrome,” making a clever point that deserves at least consideration. That is: Has the scope, […]


  • johnmecklin says:

    Fascinating idea, well-presented. I’ve blogged about your post here:


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