Monday, May 26, 2014

The Power of Narrative

Lies, lies and damn statistics.  I was thinking about how much of what now passes for news is really just a bunch of "experts" trying to explain what has already happened (and usually getting even that wrong).  Each expert or pundit will thread the facts into some type of narrative to fit their talking points.    We have a spoiled brat in California that goes on a killing spree.  Instead of looking at how many kids don't end up like him, we are inundated with narratives about this spoiled, little rich brat that went on a killing spree as a means of expression.  We see facts but construct the wrong narrative.  Then I had a revelation.

President Obama's real problem is a lack of narrative.

nar-ra-tive, noun, 1. a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true of fictitious

On Memorial Day, I see a lot of postings of Ronald Reagan's soldier speech.  Reagan has assumed an almost mythological level of reverence in the minds of conservative Americans.  What allowed Reagan to achieve this status was his narrative.

The narrative Reagan told has only improved over the years to where many believe he was the greatest modern President.  I don't know about that but what I do know is his narrative was successful.  He believed the Soviet Union was an evil empire and cast his narrative to frame his actions towards that end.

In contrast, Obama's narrative thus far has been about "hope and change".  "Hope" is what is left when you have no options left so the use of the word in his narrative is indeed an odd one.  The use of "change"begs anyone who paid attention, "change from what?" or "change to what?".  He is thus left with an empty campaign sound byte and no narrative.

President Obama lacking a narrative effects how his actions, or inactions, are perceived.  He does not know how to frame his actions in a narrative that supports his role as President of the United States.  For example, he decided to "re-start" relations with Russia but without a narrative to explain his intentions, it meant nothing to Putin or the American public.  In comparison, Putin annexed Crimea as part of his narrative and remains resolute in his commitment to regain the supremacy of Russia.  Now Putin is seen as a world-class badass and Obama is a wimp.

Obama unveiled Obama-care but when criticisms mounted, his lack of narrative prevented him from sacrificing former Secretary of Health Sebelius as a scapegoat.  She resigned before Obama could bring himself to fire her.  Good for him except it made him look indecisive.  He lacked the ability to craft a narrative to frame his inaction so he also seemed incompetent.

Then the Veterans Administration scandal broke and instead of canning Shinseki, he stands around idly not realizing a narrative is being written for him.  If he can so ineffectively run the VA, which deals with a much smaller segment of the population, then how did he imagine he could implement the Affordable Healthcare Act?

He also seems to be unable to read the narrative of others.  I've already talked about Russia but Obama has misread Asad and Morsi as well.  They do not see the US as the brokers of "hope and change".  They are both trying to preserve their national identity in the midst of chaos brought about by internal revolutions.  Whatever narrative Mr. Obama has in mind does not register in their minds.  They don't recognize him as either savior or sinner.  He is irrelevant.

Perhaps most disappointing is the first American President to have clear African heritage has been spectacularly absent from dealing with matters in Nigeria, Mali,  and Libya.  He has not made any attempt to bring about reforms or peace to Somalia.  Here was a potential legacy he could have crafted that would have rivaled Reagan's vision of a world without the Soviet Union.  Bringing Africa to parity with so called First World countries would not happen overnight but he should have been the one to start.  Instead, he is bumbling his way through his final years as President.

Lacking his own narrative is perhaps why he is also missing the next big problem.  Brazil is set to host the World Cup this year and then the 2016 Olympics.  The corruption of the Brazilian government and the oppressive life of the Brazilians living in the favelas are about to be laid bear on the international media.  The potential is extremely high for hostage taking, assault, or murder of our athletes, their families or members of the media who will be at these games.  Obama and his White House will be caught off guard (again) when catastrophe strikes.  They will have no means of responding to the crisis.

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