January 31, 2010

"Obama is always at his best when his back is against the wall, and he is perversely content when he has the challenge of the lion’s den."

Just purely on the level of analogies: back against the wall in the lion's den is not going to work out well for anybody.

Wielding that analogy is Maureen Dowd, whose next line is "He may lapse back into his Camus coma at any moment."

That's her first (and only) mention of Camus in her column (which also has "Camus" in the title, "Camus Fired Up"). It's anyone's guess what Camus— presumably the existentialist Albert Camus — and comas have to do with entering lions' dens, except to say that the lion would have an easy time with a comatose intruder. (The lion's den in question is that Republican retreat Obama favored with this presence. )

I'm thinking Camus was dredged up for the sake of alliteration. (Dowd downfall?) First the coma, then the Camus. Note that Frank Rich's NYT column today is "The State of the Union Is Comatose." That coma is contagious.

Now, Albert Camus has appeared in Maureen Dowd's column before, but not because he was a synonym for existentialism/ennui/whatever that begins with the letter C. In "Camus Comes to Crawford," she wrote about Camus because George Bush was reading "The Stranger."
It takes a while to adjust to the idea of W., who has created chaos trying to impose moral order on the globe, perusing Camus, who wrote about the eternal frustration of moral order in human affairs. What does W., the archenemy of absurdity as a view of life, kindle to in C., the apostle of absurdity as a view of life? What can W., the born-again monogamist, spark to in C., the amorous atheist? In some ways, Mr. Bush is supremely not a Camus man. Camus hated the blindness caused by ideology, and Mr. Bush wallows in it. Camus celebrated lucidity while the president keeps seeing only what he wants to see.
With that insight into what Camus means to Maureen, perhaps you are in a better position to delve into the significance of Camus to Obama's "coma." Perhaps not!

***

Back in 2006, Bush's reading of "The Stranger" inspired me to read it. My summary of the book:
An ordinary man receives the jolt: his mother has died. His response is ordinary but also extraordinary. He smokes, drinks coffee, and seeks new love, real sensation in his ordinary world. He seems numb and inexpressive, and he follows various characters who lead him into their more fully formed lives. Marie offers love and marriage. He follows without seeing the importance of it. Raymond draws him into jealousy and revenge, and he goes there too, and doesn't see a reason not to. Killing a man or not killing a man seem like equal chances on a coin flip, and, seeing life that way, he kills a man. On trial, his emptiness and his search for sensation, for some feeling of living, become the argument for the prosecution, the reason why he is guilty. Condemned, he thinks it through. He sees the significance of life, even a short life, even a hated life, and finally recognizes that he exists, which is enough, which is everything.
If a President of the United States were anything like that.... we'd be up against the wall in the lion's den.

53 comments:

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Camus can do, but Sartre is smartre.

AllenS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlphaLiberal said...

Just curious. On the other Althouse thread on this exchange there was not one mention to Obama and teleprompters.

Of course, Obama did not use a teleprompter on Friday when he pwned the Republicans on their own turf, as they had him outnumbered and were free to throw their toughest questions at him.

Do you guys think maybe you overplayed the whole teleprompter issue? Maybe you should use some discretion in repeating talking points?

AlphaLiberal said...

My hope is that we hear no more from Professor Obama for another 7 years. President Obama will be fine!

Tibore said...

"Obama is always at his best when his back is against the wall, and he is perversely content when he has the challenge of the lion’s den."

WTF??? Given his previous employment, since when has that ever happened?

Ann Althouse said...

"Do you guys think maybe you overplayed the whole teleprompter issue? Maybe you should use some discretion in repeating talking points?"

Cite where I played this issue. Did I ever run with that meme? If not, will you apologize? Maybe you should use some discretion in repeating talking points....

EDH said...

Does this "perverse contentment" mean that, henceforth, all closed-door "negotiations" on the health care bill will be broadcast on CSPAN, or not?

Ann Althouse said...

"Given his previous employment, since when has that ever happened?"

I think one time he had to debate with Hillary after Hillary was no longer the presumed candidate, and people were focusing on him for once. That was rough!

Jeffrey said...

While I am not one of those who think that Obama is a Marxist AntiChrist, I really had to laugh at blogger Malcolm Pollack's comment on Obama's SOTU speech:

First, I thought the president seemed oddly unfazed by recent events. He certainly wasn’t ill at ease; indeed he seemed remarkably relaxed and confident — even, at times, downright cocky. (An affectation of his that I am finding harder and harder to bear as time goes on — the Mussolini-style chin lift — was in play throughout.)

Forget Camus. Do the Mussolini! From now on, I think I'm going to incorporate that "Mussolini-style chin lift" in conversation to impress friends and relatives.

Paul said...

"I think one time he had to debate with Hillary after Hillary was no longer the presumed candidate, and people were focusing on him for once. That was rough!"

Another time he was trying to eat his waffle and some damn reporter was bugging him. Takes a strong man to handle such adversity.

Maguro said...

Just purely on the level of analogies: back against the wall in the lion's den is not going to work out well for anybody.

Except the lion.

Jeffrey said...

BONUS POINTS:

Which English avant-punk group recorded a song with the name of Mussolini in its title?

Palladian said...

You may have read L'Étranger by Albert Camus but did you read Nuit Dans La Fosse Aux Lions by Claude Bauls?

Paddy O. said...

The challenge of the lion's den!

rhhardin said...

Lions are notorious criminals.

I'm surprised they don't have hideouts.

DADvocate said...

I took a class in existentialism in college, reading Camus, Sarte, etc. It's been 30 years but I don't remember anything about comas. Although, I'll admit that Obama looks like he's falling into a coma at time. Maybe he's in a coma and the teleprompter is actually doing the speaking.

rhhardin said...

I have to repost my favorite Camus poem

Your velvet words of purple tint,
In France they would be famous,
Like all that belly-button lint
From Kierkegaard and Camus.

ET1492 said...

Arugula angst, Salinger stupor... Camus coma is better than either of those.

I don't like cute in newspaper writing.

I guess Dowd's trying for that old-timey yellow journalist voice. Think Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in The Hudsucker Proxy or the Hush-Hush prose in American Tabloid.

As for Bush reading The Stranger, I wonder if that was psych ops sending a message. Killing an Arab and all that...

Old Dad said...

Ann,

I'm leaning toward alliteration. Dowd's earlier Camus column cloyingly conveyed the Bush is an idiot meme. She was required to display some school girl scholarly familiarity with the apparently soporific stranger, plagued by existential angst.

Since President Obama is intellectually invincible she's free to return to her native undergrad turf. Keep a well thumbed copy of The Stranger in your book bag, but don't read it on a bet. Camus comas can conveniently be conquered by copious caffeine and callow columnists.

See it's not that hard. If I had more time I'd mix more metaphors.

Will said...

Good god, this op-ed doesn't make sense. Nothing here relates to Albert Camus if you actually know anything about the man. Camus was never in a "coma" - he was highly active in bringing attention and working toward solutions to the Algerian situation, Communism, and all sorts of other moral issues of the time.

Jeffrey said...

Hey, I'd like to read a novel where Meursault had to room with Robert Ackley and deal with Walt Stradlater and all the phonies at Pencey Prep. He'd get his existential moment with good ol' Sunny, of course.

Irene said...

Perhaps Dowd thought of Camus again in the presidential context because of the current exhumation controversy in France.

Sarkozy may have felt that he needed Camus, but Camus certainly doesn't need Sarkozy.

AlphaLiberal said...

Ann Althouse asks:

Cite where I played this issue. Did I ever run with that meme? If not, will you apologize? Maybe you should use some discretion in repeating talking points.... .

A) I actually wasn't talking to you! Mainly your legion of right wing fans. But now that you mention it, you have promoted the meme, Ann with a headline catapult. More from Ann here "Given the virulent meme about how Obama can't speak when he's off the teleprompter" (repeating Ye Old GOP TP).

To your credit you had this buried in a windy post: (By the way: can we stop with the Obama needs a teleprompter jokes?)

B) Not to my awareness, no.
C) See A. Does not apply.
D) I did use discretion in raising this observation that I read elsewhere. It's true! And funny! And interesting! It passes the filter.

AlphaLiberal said...

"catapult" as in "catapult the propaganda" one of Dubya's line.

rhhardin said...

Teleprompters are pointless if you can see the teleprompter.

Daniel used a 3x5 card.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Wasn't the mention of Camus meant to be nothing more than name-dropping on the part of Dowd, to show how intellectual she is?

AlphaLiberal said...

Correction. I type B above before searching the archives and forgot to change.

"B) Not to my awareness, no. "

Should read:

B) "run with," probably not, as the time you ran with it in a headline you were going after his manhood. But echo and repeat and reinforce, yes.

John Lynch said...

If Obama is at his best with his back to the wall, let's keep pushing him to the wall.

Flexo said...

"The lion's den" is an allusion to Daniel (whose name means "judge of/from God"), the prophet who was thrown into a loin's den by the king, but who was left unharmed because God closed the mouths of the lion(s). (Dan. 6:17-24).

But if Dowd wants to invoke Daniel, the better reference would be to "the handwriting on the wall." King Obama: MENE, TEKEL, and PERES. (Dan. 5:5-30)

Kirk Parker said...

will,

"Good god, this op-ed doesn't make sense."

Yes, that's how we know it wasn't ghost-written.

Jim S. said...

I find Dowd's insistence that Camus was an atheist interesting, since some recent studies have suggested he may have become a Christian in the late 1950s. I wrote about this on my blog here. Of course, maybe she was too intent on the alliteration ("amorous atheist") to bother with such things.

William said...

Obama with his high grammar and verbosity is always falling into the comma of parenthetical statements......Camus is the closest thing that the French left produced to an Orwell. Sartre regarded making witty statements about Nazi occupation a form of resistance. Camus really was a member of the Resistance and risked his life. The French left were more active in their resistance to the DeGaulle Presidency than to Hitler's occupation. Ophul's film The Sorrow and the Pity neglects to mention that the French communists collaborated enthusiastically with the Petain government during the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. There will never be a Second Battle of Algiers movie detailing the atrocities that were committed by Algerian Marxists against their Islamic opponents and, of course, vice versa. The most effective lies are partial truths....One has the sense that Dowd and Obama are faithful students of the left's partial truths. If Dowd were aware of Camus' writing on the Algerian war, she would banish him from the pantheon.

From Inwood said...

maguro @12:24

That's as good as Woody Allen!

master cylinder said...

Maureen's memes are mediocre.
See Poppy, Obambi, Breck guy, [okay maybe that wasnt as stupid as I thought] Obama as Spock,
Caribou Barbie...too clever by half.

From Inwood said...

Old Old Dad here did it better, but MoDo is just exhibiting her “grande duchesse” cru, using her online Thesaurus & her HS-level alliteration.

Or is exhibiting her usual cuckoo coma.

I think that she's trying to say, to the extent that she’s capable of using sense rather than nonsense, that Obama has not met her expectations but, sacré blu, he's less like Camus than Bushiepoo.

Quayle said...

Maureen is confused about who is the lion and who is the meal.

Lions don't have political preferences or parties - lions eat weaker animals.

And right now, the political class and their buddies think that the common taxpayer is looking pretty weak and pretty delectable.

And like all lions, their first trick is to make you think that the noise in the bush isn't a lion.

But I gotta tell you, Obama is doing a pretty good rendition of a lion when he devours the predictability of investment by, for example, using his political power to allow his union buddies to cram-down the prior capital structures of GM and Chrysler.

From Inwood said...

master cylinder

MoDo'd mind is Middle-school

ricpic said...

Wasn't the mention of Camus meant to be nothing more than name-dropping on the part of Dowd, to show how intellectual she is?

Jason(the commentor) nailed it. Dowd burnishing her status badge.

Peter V. Bella said...

Dowd should have used Charles Bukowski's essay "On Kant and Kunt".


wv:arsup=English sycophant's request

Peter V. Bella said...

One of Obama's teleprompters was being used by Joe Biden during the SOTU. It had a pair of hands. It was to remind him when to stop talking to himself and applaud.

Nex election I am voting for the teleprompter!

Big Mike said...

@Alpha, anyone who has his teleprompters set up to talk to a sixth grade class invites disdain, and neither you nor he should be surprised when he receives it.

As to whether Obama "pwned" the Republicans, that's a pretty debatable point. I saw only about fifteen or twenty minutes of it, but I wasn't much impressed by what I saw.

traditionalguy said...

Actually existentialism is returning to relevance these days. It is the natural state of men's minds who are caught up in a sociopath's world of video-games and Dungeons and Dragons games and World of War-craft games, even as the Frenchmen were caught up from 1940 to 1945 in the Nazi cult's war against the world games. So does Obama want the USA destroyed economically and militarily in order that he can lead us to greener pastures he tells us to hope will come from his fatal changes? If so, then we will all become existentialists not seeing any harm in a murder or two, if the game calls for it.

Jim said...

I have to take issue with "Obama pwning the Republicans" on Friday without the aid of TelePrompter.

1) Almost nothing he said on Friday was anything different than the same things he has been saying since the 2008 campaign. If he can't do that without a TelePrompter by now then even Britney Spears would have him beaten on her ability to lip synch the same tired lines from the same tired song over and over again. I wouldn't exactly trumpet that as some sort of major achievement on Obama's part unless you're really insistent on having a discussion on how Obama has a higher IQ than Britney Spears.

2) To the extent that Obama DID diverge from his talking points, it was to blow apart the Democratic Party talking points they've been using for the last year and on which they have based their 2010 election strategy. He was forced to admit repeatedly that Republicans have offered idea after idea, multiple items of legislation, amendments, etc. on all of the major topics of the day.

All the chest-thumping claims of having won the day by those who issue the daily DNC talking points are nothing more than attempts to divert from the real news of the day.

You can look up my previous post on Friday's encounter and you can see pretty clearly that Obama's major accomplishments were:

a) Making Pelosi/Hoyer out to be the major obstacles to bipartisanship. Republicans were able to show they were willing to listen to Obama, and Obama was able to show he was willing to listen to Republicans. Guess who that left holding the bag? Yeah...Guess how much poisoning the well with his own party in the House is going to cost him going forward?

Guess which two Democrats were immediately issued invitations to speak before the Republican caucus as a result of Obama's BIG WIN and immediately declined? If you guessed Pelosi and Hoyer, then go get in line for your prize. So when Democrats try to claim that Republicans won't try to work with them, all Republicans have to do is point out that - unlike Obama - Pelosi and Hoyer were unwilling to speak to Republicans even when they were invited to do so?

Republicans showed respect and were good hosts to Obama, so all those wild-eyed accusations of not being willing to engage in substantive discussions from the Queen of Mean and her court jester are going to fall flat going forward.

b) Since the "Party of NO" and "no ideas" is now out the window after Obama's "tour de force" on Friday and the Democrats have failed to deliver on every major item of their agenda, what is it exactly that Obama has left congressional Democrats to run on this year? How many seats do you think Obama's "pwnage" of the Republicans just cost the Democratic Party in the fall? I'd say at least a couple...

If this is what you call Obama "pwning Republicans" then by all means let's see more of it.

By the time he gets through, he'll have completely destroyed what remains of Democrats' electoral chances in the fall.

AJ Lynch said...

Althouse said:

"I think one time he had to debate with Hillary after Hillary was no longer the presumed candidate, and people were focusing on him for once. That was rough!"

What are you trying to say here? That when your team is winning by ten runs and the game is well in hand, it is tough to bat in the top of the 9th inning?

Fen said...

Alpha: Of course, Obama did not use a teleprompter on Friday.. Do you guys think maybe you overplayed the whole teleprompter issue?

Alpha, this was not a speech, it was a debate. You're proud of Obama for not bringing his teleprompter to the debate? Who brings a teleprompter to a debate?

You've been stuck with some very stupid talking points today. I'd go back and ask for another set.

Fen said...

Shorter Alpha: "I forgot he was black tonight for an hour."

Fen said...

Maureen's memes are mediocre.

Yah, but she can do this wicked thing with her hips.

Why do you think she's been kept on after birthing the term "Dowdism".

mtrobertsattorney said...

As for Obama's performance before the Republicans, all it showed was that he mastered the standard move of your typical third-rate politician.

To wit, if you don't have the smarts to answer the question, or if you just don't want to answer it, you simply change the question to what you would like it to be and then answer your own question. This technique works great on a live broadcast. But if you read the transcript, the nonsense jumps right out at you.

Jim said...

mtroberts -

It surely was striking how utterly he failed to address the questions actually asked of him.

I was especially struck at how clumsily he attempted to deflect the last tough question by claiming that he wasn't obligated to answer it because it was "phrased as a talking point." He was visibly angry at being called on the carpet on a question for which he had no good answer.

Even if one stipulate that the question was a "talking point," Obama's answer was still nonsensical:

1) He had stood there and done nothing but regurgitate talking points for the entirety of his visit.

2) If you haven't sufficiently prepped yourself to answer the other side's talking points, then you should have called in sick rather than embarrass yourself that way.

His excuse for completely ducking the question was ludicrously bad that I actually laughed out loud.

But Alpha seems to think it was a big WIN for Obama, so evidently he appeased his Leftist base. Given that his credibility is floating somewhere in the 20-30% range on all his major talking points (stimulus worked, 2 million jobs saved, etc.), maybe that was all he could have hoped to do there anyway....

traditionalguy said...

I am lion, see me roar says the GOP, while the prophet Obama says he will still be the ruler in the morning, and then he plans to throw the GOP into a den of destruction. That is chutzpa. The Gop had better stick with the Sarahcuda who got them this far. A wounded Obama can be a desperate and dangerous man.

Anthony said...

Actually, the more important question is why is anyone still reading Maureen Dowd.

I lost her in the aftermath of 9/11 when I thought frankly she lost her plot

Defenseman Emeritus said...

Alpha, the only pwning I've observed is Jim's pwning of you. After his 1/31 3:52pm post, the ref stopped the fight because your trainer couldn't get your gashes to stop bleeding.

Paul Zrimsek said...

But if Dowd wants to invoke Daniel, the better reference would be to "the handwriting on the wall." King Obama: MENE, TEKEL, and PERES. (Dan. 5:5-30)

MENE, MENE URKEL UPHARSIN: We tried to weigh you in the balance but you were too lightweight to give a usable reading.