When I heard the president in the last debate, I thought I was in Cloud Cuckoo Land: he seemed to be running for office as a fresh challenger — with the same future tenses and subjunctive moods of “I will” and “I would” as he long ago used against Bobby Rush, Alan Keyes, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, when he was the perennial potential office-holder. In other words, the president sounded as if he does not have a record to run on, only a speculative one about which to offer hypotheses. Note how Obama slept through four years and only comes alive in a campaign where he loves his own speeches, likes to accuse and belittle, and feeds off the frenzy of crowds — in comparison to all that, intelligence briefings and debate prep are a “drag.”
So what he said in these two debates was all a sort of lie, as if Mitt Romney has been president for four years or George Bush is now in his third term. The Greeks called such a busybody, non-stop talker a “polypragmôn,” someone who jumps from here to there, always talking, persuading, speechifying, but never really accomplishing anything. The more Obama promised, the more I thought I had amnesia: did he not have two years of a Democratic Senate and House, and in the beginning with a supermajority that was filibuster-proof?
The Way of the Sophist
I had a lot of Obamas in class. They sat in the front of the room, posed long eloquent questions, mellifluously interrupted the lectures with clever refinements and qualifications, often self-referenced all that they had read and done — and then pow!: you grade their first test and there is simply nothing there: a D or F. It was quite stunning: how could a student be so confident in his rhetoric and so dismal in his performance?
Surely I thought this test must be some terrible mistake (did his mother just die? Had she came down with mononucleosis? Is this a fluke, a once-in-a-lifetime bad day?). And then he takes the midterm and then the final and then turns in the paper — each effort proves more pathetic than the last. Yet in class the next day, there he is again, raising his hand, pouring out clever phraseology and eloquent exempla, as if he has not just flunked his test and is getting an F.
Each time you encounter such a Starbuck the Rainmaker or The Music Man, the experience still is discomforting, given the vast abyss between the eloquent grandstanding rhetoric and actual achievement — and the deliberate way in which you, the instructor, were to be conned. And if such students are athletic, dapper, charismatic, and sharply dressed (and for some reason they so often are), the disconnect becomes ever more arresting. Sometimes the debacle even worsens when they come to office hours after the first bad grade, “shocked” that the professor might underappreciate their rhetorical gymnastics. Similar is the gulf between Obama’s teleprompted verbiage and his actual performance of governing since 2009.
I don’t know about back east or down south, but out here in the west we have what used to be called “drug-store cowboys.” They are easiest to spot on the road because they drive big gas-guzzling trucks with tires five feet tall but they live in the suburbs and work indoors. They have Truck Nutz hanging from the trailer hitch and enough horses under the hood to move a house but they don’t own anyhing to haul behind them. The truck may say “4×4” on the side but they rarely take it off the pavement, hate to get it dirty and never put anything in the bed for fear of scratching the paint.
These guys might be annoying but they are harmless because they know they aren’t real cowboys. They are poseurs.
noun \pō-ˈzər, ˈpō-zər\
Definition of POSEUR
: a person who pretends to be what he or she is not : an affected or insincere person
Origin of POSEUR
French, literally, poser, from poser
First Known Use: 1869
Barack Obama has been a poseur all his life. He pretends to be an intellectual. He went to law school but didn’t practice law. He was on the faculty of a law school but he’s not an academic. He ran for public office but he knows little of politicking and even less about governing. He accomplished nothing but wrote two books about it.
He spent the past four years pretending to be President of the United States.