Earlier this week, it made news that "Bringing Peace, Security to Syria" was listed as one of the top achievements in 2015 by the Obama State Department. If this is what peace and security in Syria look like, I’d hate to see the hellish charnel house the region would have to become for the State Department to admit it's chaos.
This bizarre messaging reminded me of another bit of news that came out of the White House recently: Obama gave the Medal of Freedom to Barbra Streisand. While ISIS and The Prince of Tides both fall under the heading of "things I dislike intensely," I will try and explain more precisely why these two things are related.
Streisand hasn't exactly been a pop culture fixture over the last few decades. In fact, if you're on the younger side, Streisand's fame extends primarily to an internet phenomenon, known as the "Streisand Effect." In 2003, a photographer trying to document coastal erosion took a picture of Streisand's Malibu home from a helicopter and posted it online. There was no attempt to specifically draw attention to Streisand's home; it was one of 12,000 pictures of the coast that the photographer took. Nonetheless, Streisand sued to have the photo removed from the web. Of course, the silly legal action ended up drawing more attention to the picture of her house than it would have if she'd just left it alone. It became an internet meme. People were posting photos of her house, just to spite her.
So it's a wonder that the Obama presidency hasn't quite figured out that denying the existence of the obvious actually doesn't help. When you say there's peace and security in Syria, you're not convincing anyone that's the case. You're inevitably drawing attention to the fact the region is a mess and the Obama administration's handling of the situation has been terrible.
It's not just limited to Syria, either. Denial of the obvious has been a feature of the Obama presidency. Recall that Obama told Bill O'Reilly in his Super Bowl interview a few years back that there was "not a smidgen of corruption" at the IRS. Well, no. In fact, the IRS held a press conference to admit its own wrongdoing and the chief IRS official involved is pleading the Fifth. When you deny the obvious, the effect is to sow distrust among those voters who are concerned about the scandal.
What about "Obamacare is working"? We hear that a lot. Maybe this messaging is necessary because it gives liberal supporters a talking point to rally around, but for the rest of us in the "reality-based community" the undeniable fact is that the law is failing in very significant ways. Insurance costs are up 27 percent despite promises that the law would make it cheaper, and even Hillary Clinton is now conceding in Democratic debatesthat the law has made the insurance industry less competitive and in Iowa she's admitting the law is killing jobs.
Unless you're already on Team Obama, this kind of denial is polarizing at best and infuriating at worst. So why do they do it? Well, the general rule in Washington is never assume malice when incompetence and arrogance will suffice. It's more than possible that Obama and those in his administration are in a bubble. Indeed, that was heavily suggested by the recent fracas when The New York Times reported—then memory-holed—a report where Obama said he underestimated how much the recent ISIS attack in San Bernardino had spooked Americans because he didn't watch cable news.
The more sinister reading would be that this is the Obama administration brazenly lying because that's how their theory of "stray voltage" works:
This is the White House theory of "Stray Voltage." It is the brainchild of former White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, whose methods loom large long after his departure. The theory goes like this: Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness. This happens, Plouffe theorizes, even when—and sometimes especially when—the White House appears defensive, besieged, or off-guard.
Indeed, when your entire administration is rolling policy disaster, I guess you'd rather be arguing whether Obamacare or your Syria policy is working—no matter how transparent and facile such an argument would be in the face of actual facts—than arguing over just how big a disaster these things are.
But aside from institutionalizing dishonesty, this approach clearly has its limits as a political strategy, judging by how roundly mocked their Syria declaration was earlier this week. Too much stray voltage, and you get burned by the Streisand Effect.