Barack Obama hates me. He doesn't much like my wife or mother, either.
Unfortunately, it's nothing personal.
Our problem is that we are part of the one group that really seems to piss the President off -- social justice liberals with an immediate tradition that stretches from the Depression through the civil and sexual rights movements.
Last week was not the first time when we roused Obama's ire. During the confirmation battles over right-wing judges, then-Senator Obama lashed out at his closest liberal allies. It then seemed to be a strange and puzzling performance: faced with the likes of Roberts and Alito, Obama turned his anger on Ralph Neas and Nan Aron, despite the fact that they were all taking exactly the same position.
His choice of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural benediction was a stick in the eye of his gay supporters (and, as Warren proved in his parochial remarks, of all Catholics, Jews, Hindi, Muslims, and secularists as well).
At the time of the inauguration, Obama's choice of Warren was read as an attempt to reach out to Evangelicals. With hindsight, what is more important is whom Obama pushed to the back of the platform: Joseph Lowery, the African-American pastor whose rhetoric and record evokes the entire history of the civil rights movement, and Bishop Eugene Robinson, whose life is imbued with the story of the mainstreaming of the sexual outsider.
Neas, Aron, Lowery, and Robinson are all deep, social justice liberals. In his treatment of them -- and in the visceral reaction the President evinced last week - Obama was announcing how determined he was to extract himself from the liberal narrative.
For such an Apollonian figure, Obama's reaction to any attempt to tie him to the liberal narrative is astonishingly visceral. An evocation of social justice pushes Obama's buttons in an incredibly negative way. He can keep his cool when a South Carolinian shouts, "You lie," during the State of the Union. He can shrug off a stated Republican attempt to destroy him even if it puts the country at risk. But tie him to a story of struggle and his emotions suddenly emerge.
This may explain Obama's failure to "fight." During the campaigns, he fought hard and well. But that was a fight centered around a narrative of personal exceptionalism. Obama was not of the civil rights movement like all other African-American candidates before him. He was not tied to the labor movement and, by virtue of age, was completely divorced from the anti-war movement. (Obama's pro-war position on Afghanistan and anti on Iraq is particularly revealing since it is an intellectual stance, not a moral or even pragmatic one.)
Liberals (and unions and social justice organizations) supported Obama, of course. We did so for a good reason: Obama's positions mirror our own. But his emotional intelligence is entirely foreign to ours. Even worse, he finds our story threatening.
In mythic terms, Obama's narrative is a messianic one: he is the exceptional figure who takes the troubles of the community upon himself. (You can see where this is a great campaign but a lousy governing narrative.) Whereas, the social justice movement is a fusion of the Mosaic and Promethean -- a narrative of struggle, moral imperatives, and acts of defiance that move the world forward, no matter what the personal cost.
A culture is only allowed one Messiah; it is by definition the most personal of myths. The social justice myth is communitarian. Moses alone in the desert means nothing.
In the deepest sense, the social justice narrative threatens Obama. The things he wishes to escape - anything that would tie him either to mass protest or specific, organized groups (be they unions or social justice organizations) - threaten his personal exceptionalist story. By definition, any communitarian myth contradicts any messianic one.
Obama's personal myth -- indeed any exceptionalist myth -- depends upon the statement: "I'm not you."
The right knows it's not him, does not want him to be them, and thus poses no emotional threat. The left does want Obama to be one of us - and he hates that with a passion that goes to the core of his emotional understanding.
For social justice liberals, this is an enormous problem. But it is a problem for the President as well: on both the right and the left, successful messianic candidates (Lincoln, FDR, Reagan) found social narratives to tell once they were elected.
Embracing liberal positions but rejecting the liberal narrative, Obama could not weave his substantial achievements into a larger American story. With no social myth to sustain him, he is unable to speak or act with moral clarity.
Messianic narratives end in one of two ways: the achievement of paradise or crucifixion. Obama won't achieve the former. The only way he can avoid the latter is to find a new social narrative to tell.