#2 The Obama Diaries
By Laura Ingraham
Threshold Editions, 2010
I don’t have enough space to tell you everything that’s wrong with Laura Ingraham’s The Obama Diaries. Just for starters, it’s really two bad books in one binding. The first is your standard-issue political screed: only you can take back America from the bad guys who hate their country and are bent on its destruction, etc. It’s pernicious and rather evil stuff, but sadly, unremarkable, so anger quickly fades to pitying disgust. Which would be the feeling I had when I closed the cover if it weren’t for the second component of The Obama Diaries: a stupendously moronic and transparently racist satire on the President of the United States.
But Ingraham does such a poor job of hiding her narrow-mindedness that her book is accidentally instructive. We find it clearly demonstrated, for example, how when the closed mind is displeased with our reality, ideology invents a new one. Said interpretation is often irrational and conspiratorial, and this is because the reasoning process has been perverted by hatred, or jettisoned entirely in favor of it. If Barack Obama receives favorable coverage in the press, or simply a large amount of it, our author thinks a backroom deal must have been struck:
President Obama appeared on Time magazine’s cover a staggering twenty-four times during his first year in office. For comparison’s sake, George W. Bush landed on Time‘s cover only thirty-one times during his entire eight-year presidency. For access to this “bright,” “young,” “fashionable” “most elegant” family, the magazines have to give up only one precious commodity: their objectivity.
Don’t dwell on the irony of that last sentence. Elsewhere, liberal columnists are called – abstracted into, really – “mouthpieces” for the Obama administration. Notice the arrhythmic mental pattern: when feeling isn’t mediated by reason, correlation does the work of causation. Instead of magazines (or people) being complex things with various biases, histories and motivations that tend to align in one direction more than another for a myriad of contingent reasons, we have the emotional satisfaction of dark collusion.
This simple model of causality is supported by an equally emotional system of categorization – in fact it very closely resembles the fanatical viewership of professional sports. Here everything is filtered through the viewer’s immaculate conception of their team, which forms a component of their identity. When the game is played and penalties are given and hopes are dashed, the fan can hardly help his or her hypocrisy. The resemblance to political discourse is strong.
For example, Ingraham believes that “the president has generally failed to take border enforcement seriously” because it would be “an impediment to achieving one of his top priorities – his reelection.” “Every deported alien is one less vote for Obama in 2012,” she notes. Surely the blue team is interested in the ‘Latino vote’ (here their mono-conceptual view of Latinos probably rivals Ingraham’s), but take note of the context omitted. Deportations have risen significantly under Obama’s presidency, as have border deployments, while his predecessor (a member of the red team) was staunchly pro-immigration: George Bush made no serious attempt to enforce immigration laws and expended huge quantities of political capitol in an effort to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This is not to discount the probability that Obama and the rest of the blue team have cynical reasons for passing immigration reform, but for the fanatic to admit that the other team might to doing something right is to concede everything, because political sports is a zero-sum game. To carry the metaphor to its conclusion, it hardly occurs to Ingraham and her like that red and blue are on the same team but merely have different ideas about winning the game.
There is also a lumping tendency to the fanatic’s schema: because there are only two categories, any target in the bad category is conflated with the worst of his peers, and connections need only be stated, not proven. Thus Obama must have grown up reading Howard Zinn and hating his country because he noted, in a speech in Cairo, that the United States has supported some pretty nasty dictators in the past. Ingraham also wonders why liberals – we are talking of tens of millions of people – “have such a hard time loving America unconditionally,” why “so many Obama boosters….reflexively feel the need to remind the world that America has screwed up royally.” Naturally, in a system of thought that abjures judgment and caution in favor of emotion, rhetoric will be reduced down to its nastier, baser components. “Liberal elites” like Sean Penn and George Soros “seem genetically predisposed to think the worst about the country that helped them achieve their wealth and celebrity.” The tone of exasperation is unmistakable; Ingraham is only half-joking.
The dangers of broad categorization and mental indiscipline are especially acute in matters of race. It was a bizarre – I hesitate to use the word – literary choice for Ingraham to weave fictional diaries of Barack Obama, his family and his advisers into a run-of-the-mill political screed. As a satire, it is only petty and ugly and illuminates no one but the author. Here is some of the president’s first fake diary entry:
…Hell, yes, it’s the first time we’re proud to be Americans!…I am the f—ing president! They actually bought it when I said I wanted to “form a more perfect union.: I think Aretha was crying beneath that Easter basket hat of hers when I said that line….hey, I am the perfect union! Good looks, big brains, and a damn fine jump shot at my age.
You should have seen the way Beyonce looked at me at that ball tonight. Damn!….It’s the era of Barack the Beautiful. Long may I reign.
Obama’s wife laments being stuck in a “drafty, white mausoleum of a house,” likes Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keyes but hates Sheryl Crow, who she can’t dance to, and who only performed with the black musicians for “diversity purposes.” This is, you come to realize, how Ingraham thinks black people think.
But perhaps what’s worst about the fanatical mind is its ubiquity. A near-illiterate combination of racism, morning-in-America fluff, ahistorical Founder-worship, and vicious hatred of anything left of far right is an ugly, pathetic thing. But what of the millions who read it?
Greg Waldmann, an Editor at Open Letters Monthly, is a native New Yorker living in Boston with a degree in International Affairs.