Jonah Goldberg

Although there's still a great deal to be learned about the scandals and controversies swirling around the White House like so many ominous dorsal fins in the surf, the nature of President Obama's bind is becoming clear. The best defenses of his administration require undermining the rationale for his presidency.

"We're portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots. It's actually closer to us being idiots." So far, this is the administration's best defense.

It was offered to CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson by an anonymous aide involved in the White House's disastrous response to the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Well-intentioned human error rarely gets the credit it deserves. People want to connect dots, but that's only possible when you assume that all events were deliberately orchestrated by human will. This is the delusion at the heart of all conspiracy theories, from Kennedy assassination crackpots to 9/11 "truthers".

Behind all such delusions is the assumption that government officials we don't like are omni-competent and entirely malevolent. The truth is closer to the opposite. They mean well but can't do very much very well.

This brings us to the flip side of the conspiracy theory -- call it the redeemer fantasy: If only we had the right kind of government with the right kind of leaders, there'd be nothing we couldn't do.

It's been a while since we had a self-styled redeemer president. John F. Kennedy surely dabbled in the myth that experts could solve all of our problems, though much of JFK's messianic status was imposed on him posthumously by the media and intellectuals. You really have to go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson to find a president who pushed the salvific powers of politics as much as Barack Obama.

His presidency has been grounded in the fantasy that there's "nothing we can't do" through government action if we just put all our faith in it -- and, by extension, in him. We are the ones we've been waiting for, he tells us, and if we just give over to a post-political spirit, where we put aside our differences, the way America (allegedly) did during other "Sputnik moments," (one of his favorite phrases) we can give "jobs to the jobless," heal the planet, even "create a kingdom [of heaven] right here on Earth."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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