Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Deceit

February 2, 2014


As it happened I had two brief if revealing conversations with fellow parishioners of my church this morning concerning President Obama‘s words on education in his State of the Union address.

The two men who approached me are fathers of young NYC public school children with whom I have had many conversations about what is pleasantly referred to as “education reform.” Both men are intelligent, educated professionals, decent men deeply concerned and engaged with the upbringing of their children. From prior conversations both men know exactly where I stand on said “reform” and both men assumed I would be as happy as they were with what the president had to say this time around. After all, how could I not be? Here was the president speaking scornfully of an education based on “bubble tests.” Here was the president wisely embracing the wisdom of universal pre-k education for our kids. Wasn’t Obama addressing precisely the kind of things I had found so awful and destructive or absent in the “reforms?” Wasn’t pre-K this exactly the kind of program I had said was needed to begin to adequately deal with the horrific effects of poverty? Wasn’t the president getting this mess straightened out?

Well…no, I had to tell them, the president was not. In fact, contrary to what the man was telling the nation, those working in schools knew that he was having his people doubling down on what they have been doing since the man foisted Race To the Top on our bankrupt nation. And a Race to the Top for Pre –K , as Obama put it, was nothing short of obscene. The president, by far the most radically corporate executive we’ve ever had in terms of education, has been saying similar sounding things every time he speaks on the subject.

Are you saying Obama is lying?
Yes, I am saying Obama is lying.
But I sense my words are not allowed full entry into the minds of these men. Something inside them is refusing them. These guys do not want to hear it. Like many decent people, they want to believe our handsome, eloquent and elegant young president has their backs and the backs of their children. I understand this desire. I too want to believe it. But I cannot. I see that it is a lie every hour of every day of my professional life. I see it in the hollow eyes of my students and the fearful eyes of my colleagues.

And so the conversations re-confirmed to me something of the dark genius of our president’s rhetoric; that is, of Obama’s method of spouting lofty lies that are discernable as lies only to the relative few who directly deal with them, but are like music to the ears of the vast majority who do not. Speaking like this is not a strategy that Obama invented — many presidents have employed it — – but it takes a figure as attractive as Obama to pull it off to the extent that he does. And it is precisely that ability – an ability that a George W. Bush or Mitt Romney mouthing the same words could never muster — which makes Obama so dangerous. It is precisely that ability that made Obama the perfect Manchurian Candidate and then the perfect Manchurian president for the radical corporatists he so diligently and shamelessly represents.

I walked home with my daughter dealing the best I could with the uncomfortable sensation that the two fathers I spoke with were far more comfortable with the lies of the president than with the daily experiences of teachers such as myself from coast to coast.
I walked home with my daughter trying to accept the idea that from the standpoint of our childrens’ education Obama’s speech spelled out a continuing catastrophe, while from the stand point of the politics of deceit, the same speech was a ringing success. Obama, I fear, has done it again.

It was a long walk home.


6 Responses to “Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Deceit”

  1. John Says:

    Unfortunately, I have too many similar conversations with seemingly intelligent people. I wish it weren’t so.

  2. Madame deFarge Says:

    When the two gentlemen that attend your church are able to put the pieces together, that the bubbling and RTTT, are part of the bigger picture, it will be a hallelujah moment.
    We gotta lotta people in this country who just ain’t seein’ that the floor is being pulled out from under them, whether it be cuts to the chained CPI, TPP, drone warfare, obamacare, unemployment benefits, Penny Pritzker the Secretary of Commerce, and that Obama was selected to do exactly what he is doing, pulling the wool over their eyes.

  3. Harris Lirtzman Says:


    I find the same locked-mind problem among many of my friends and colleagues. They intellectually understand the arguments I raise about “education reform” and its corporate genesis but recoil when I begin to trace for them the roots of the problem in the president’s own decisions and his cynical exploitation, as you so clearly describe in your piece, of the fact that “education reform,” its basis and its scope are simply too complex for people with “real lives” outside the education-industrial complex to understand or the inclination and time to investigate.

    It’s incumbent upon us to find a way to make the case in a way that can be apprehended by people who reflexively understand that the Republican Party has rabies and so cannot contemplate the fact that Obama might not be the true and stalwart defense they need him to be, psychologically at least, against The Beast. I, a man of direct words, find myself pulling back from real conversations about Obama’s culpability because the intellectual and emotional seize-up that occurs in the course of these convos is so painful for the people I have them with and so frustrating for me because I haven’t yet found a way to make the case without creating a cognitive dissonance so powerful for people that they’d rather consider me a lunatic than reconsider their emotionally-necessary stance that, well, without Obama we’re all f…..ed.

  4. NJ Teacher Says:

    Hi Raging! I voted for Obama twice and I cannot stand to look at him any more. My “professional” life has become almost unbearable. I am constantly being taught some new gimmick and being told that all prior teaching was totally ineffective. By the grace of God, my generation and our predecessors were educated in some of the finest institutions in our land. I would like to tell all these professional developers to sit down and shut up. Then I will patiently explain that all effective teaching comes from the heart, which is a competency yet to be quantified by Danielson.

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      Hi Abigail,
      and thank you for writing. I would like to do the same and more with the professional developers. Keep the faith. We are all we have at this moment and we must hold fast.

      all the best,
      Patrick Walsh

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