Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 27, 2013

When Presidents Fail (Obama and the Flying Saucer)

“Contrary to the rumors, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on the Krypton, and sent by my father Jorel to save Planet Earth.” — Barack Obama

President Obama is notable for the length of his list of broken promises, and his continuation of pretty much every one of the hated Bush policies. Nice going on ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and installing a brewery at the White House, but you came into office with all of the executive privileges exercised by W. Bush, with a Democrat-controlled Congress, and yet…

  • you didn’t close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center
  • your universal health care is not universal health care (in a country with universal health care, even tourists get free care and there is no question about having an insurance card.)
  • you took no steps to preserve abortion rights (indeed, you just watched as the states eroded them.)
  • you nominated lobbyists into key positions
  • you dropped your promise to allow importation of prescription drugs
  • you continue to deny the very existence of drone missile attacks (transparency?)
  • your foreclosure prevention fund was a dismal failure
  • you did not push the Employee Free Choice Act (protecting unions) while you enjoyed Democratic control of both House and Senate, so it became a dead letter
  • you did not introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in your first year of office
  • you did not investigate Bush Administration war crimes
  • you allowed bankrupt companies to rob their creditors by paying outsize bonuses to their own executives
  • you did not create a $60 billion infrastructure repair fund
  • you did not lower taxes on low-to-middlin’ income senior citizens
  • you did not begin withdrawing from Afghanistan by July 2011
  • you did not increase the minimum wage
  • you expanded the war against medical cannabis providers
  • you raised taxes on those making less than $250,000 / year, via cigarettes, tanning beds, and the penalty on those who cannot afford their own healthcare.
  • you did not move terrorism suspects from military commissions into the civilian courts
  • you did not increase capital gains taxes
  • you did not tax oil company windfall profits
  • you did not achieve an agreement peacefully establishing a Palestinian state (and why on Earth would you claim to be able to accomplish such a thing?)
  • through the morally decrepit stooge Carl Levin, you introduced language into a defense spending bill allowing for the indefinite military detention of Americans, after you said that we weren’t that kind of country

Actually, there are at least 50 promises you broke, Mr. Obama. Your presidency has been a near-total failure, except from the standpoint of bankers, health insurance companies, neoconservative war-mongers, and weapons manufacturers. I can understand Obama voters who were simply more frightened of Mitt Romney, but… why did people show up to Obama’s second inauguration with jersies with”smiling pictures of the president sewn on like Girl Scout badges, and ‘THE ONE’ written where an athlete’s name would be?” Where was the change we were supposed to believe in?

There are instances where a total disappointment that totally disconfirms one’s beliefs is turned around into a strengthened belief. This was famously explored by social psychologist Leon Festinger and colleagues through the case of the “Seekers” UFO cult. The cultists believed that the world would end in a flood on Dec. 21, 1954, but the Seekers would be whisked away in a flying saucer to Planet Clarion. Festinger and friends were curious as to what would happen when/if the world didn’t end, so they joined the cult to watch the emotional ride first-hand.

When the saucer did not land at midnight, Dec. 21, the cultists got a little worried that they might be left behind. There was some crying and hugging. Fortunately, around 4:00 am, they received a new telepathic message from Clarion, informing them that the God of Earth had relented from his fury, moved by the love of the little circle of believers, and there would be no flood or saucer landing. The cult switched from a policy of secrecy, to one of enthusiastic proselytization.

What happened there? You’d think that people would throw up their hands, admit to having been wrong, and go home and start thinking about what to do with the rest of their lives. Festinger and team theorized that the discomfort of being so utterly wrong was unbearably great, so that people threw the whole force of their being into denying the truth and keeping the faith against all evidence. Converting new believers helped believers to feel more reasonable, with more social support for their ridiculously-held belief.

In their write-up, “When Prophecy Fails,” the researchers named some conditions that would support the redoubling of a disproven belief:

  • A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he behaves.
  • The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual’s commitment to the belief.
  • The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
  • Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
  • The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.

Of course, Obama’s active supporters were linked via e-mail lists, social media, house parties and so on, “groups of convinced persons who can support one another.” They took actions to be known as Obama supporters, from lawn signs to bumper stickers and so on, publicly declaring their loyalty, which cannot be undone. They watched on the news as their beliefs were unequivocally and undeniably refuted by Obama’s actual actions as President.

Hopefully more understanding can lead to more compassion for Obama’s lost followers.



  1. Frankly, you could list 500 broken promises and I would still give Obama a pass. Because Congress is, and has been through both his terms, far, far worse – an impenetrable, unresponsive roadblock that I seriously doubt any President short of George Washington himself could have shepherded toward effective solutions to the problems you’ve listed. They are the ones who have watered-down and dumbed-down every comprehensive attempt the Administration proposes. And yes, Romney was not exactly scary, just obviously a poorer choice, due to his transparent inability and unwillingness to be honest, authentic, and stick to a position on major topics. Nobody (except whoever paid for him) really knows what he would have done in the big chair.

    Comment by Invisible Mikey — April 27, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

    • “you could list 500 broken promises and I would still give Obama a pass”… well that just proves that I am right and you missed the saucer! I am kidding… I was irritated with people calling me a “conspiracy theorist” so I thought I would dismiss a mainstream view as pathological. Naming my enemy as pathological to reframe things as a debate about your craziness, not the issue at hand. But when you note Romney’s -transparent- inability to be honest and authentic, aren’t you basically supporting Obama as the better actor?

      Comment by paragardener — April 29, 2013 @ 1:04 am

      • Well of course! The ability to give a convincing speech, appearance, and a sense of presence is a key attribute for leading. Reagan could never have done it without his past acting experience. TVQ is important. The President is one way the world views us. If we put a doof on display, it suggests that we too are doofuses. Persuasion is paramount to diplomacy for domestic or foreign policy. The Prez has to be the best actor we can find!

        Comment by Invisible Mikey — April 29, 2013 @ 6:59 am

      • Well, I hope that he is lying… er, acting, with total good faith on your behalf.

        Comment by paragardener — May 1, 2013 @ 4:39 am

  2. Mostly right, although some of these things were dependent on Congress and not solely up to the Prez. The president has less power than most people think. Also, I don’t think he ever claimed that Obamacare was universal health care–just a step toward it. But he’s a disappointment, to say the least–as I knew he would be.

    I voted for him only on the “lesser of two evils” premise. However bad he is, my fear was and is that a Romney would have been even worse.

    But on civil liberties, defending women’s rights (esp. reproductive rights), lack of investigation into the Bush war crimes, willingness to cut Social Security benefits … and the list goes on … yeah, total fucking failure.

    I am a deep cynic when it comes to voting. I try to suss out the one who will do the lesser harm. I have no idealism when it comes to politicians. Well, once in a blue moon, perhaps, as with Wellstone, may he RIP.

    I was relieved that Romney didn’t win, but I never thought Obama would do great things. And he hasn’t. However, i did expect a little more from him. Hope springs eternal and all that. But I’m quite willing to grant all your criticisms. There’s no arguing about it.

    Still we do need to note that Congress has been nothing but a collection of total fucking assholes. Anything that Obama could have accomplished, they’ve obstructed without a care for the good of the people of this country.

    Comment by estraven — April 27, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

    • Remember that Obama came into an office bloated with newly-claimed executive powers and a Democrat-controlled Congress. Yet, he somehow failed to make any perceptible changes. (I changed the main text to reflect this.)

      Comment by paragardener — April 27, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

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