“Stockholm Syndrome” at the White House?

Posted on December 10, 2010 by

President Obama’s outburst last week against “sanctimonious” liberals who oppose his tax cut deal was both encouraging and troubling.

Though it was good to see him so animated and focused, his vehemence in defending himself suggests that he may recognize this tendency to fold too soon.  So the criticism hits home.

On top of that, the president may feel misunderstood and betrayed by his people.  And when congressional democrats and other allies continually try to coach him in deal-making (watch this clip with New York Dem Anthony Weiner), I’m afraid their “advice” may feed his resentment and make him more defensive.

And it could get even worse.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the president’s press conference reference to “hostage takers” a little disturbing.

Playing on that analogy, what if Obama begins to identify too closely with his adversaries?  In a variation of the “Stockholm Syndrome” the president gains more and more satisfaction pleasing republicans and becomes increasingly turned off by the constant disapproval he hears from members of his own party.

He doesn’t flip his allegiance, of course, (so much for the Stockholm Syndrome) but becomes more intransigent and isolated (that can happen to presidents).

So, in the end, this battle over the tax deal may turn out to be the pivotal crisis of character for Barack Obama.  And how it resolves could determine the fate of his administration and – with it – what’s left of the liberal agenda.

Comments (7)


  1. Great piece, as always, Lou!

    Let’s hope Barack Obama doesn’t become so intransigent and isolated that he ends up hiding for a whole month, and letting Michelle take over the WH for a month the way Abraham Lincoln turned the ropes over to his wife, Mary.

  2. Tony Hale says:

    My understanding of the Stockholm Syndrome is that it is the hostage who develops an overwhelming identification with the hostage taker, not the police or family of the hostage. You and I are the hostages in this scenario, and it does seem we take an obsessive interest in our opponents.

    As progressive Democrats, we spend more time denouncing our own side, when we should be building a stronger party and fighting for what we believe in.

    I have found Republicans most offended by the hostage analogy. I think the analogy is an apt one. We are engaged in negotiations with thugs who don’t mind if even their own supporters get hurt, because they believe they will win the next round in 2012. It’s amazing they conceded anything to the Administration at all.

    The Obama Administration needs to do better at public relations, and we need to keep fighting for what we believe in. We lost what we lost over the past two years because we did not win big enough in 2008, and now we face the results of another loss this year. In the face of these challenges, we need to fight harder than ever before. The consequences of another Democratic loss will be catastrophic, we must come together and fight for what we believe in.

  3. Dennis Dixon says:

    I spoke with Barack when he was running for Senate here in Illinois. He knew what I was talking about when I presented him with a brief on The Shrub’s Job Training Bill and even gave me a dimension of the Bill that made it worse mentally for Bush. All I’ve been really saying is that his arguing Right wing terms in Right wing language (“We want Jobs” for example, blah blah is not hard to argue from our point of view!). Stop listening to the war mongers, Imperialists, and so far if you want to “save money.” “Single Payer Health Care!” And I’m not a mathematical genius. But this stuff isn’t hard.

  4. Martin says:

    The unfortunate reason the President may feel this way is because conservatives have welcomed, tolerated and used the simplistic and the unsophisticated with all their pent-up anger and fictitious issues, and these, like crazies in the nut house, never stop making noise. The reason this noise gains track is because there is no unabashed opposing force from the other side, who appears afraid of being of being labelled one way or the other by their adversaries, instead of articulating their needs in a concise vision, warts and all.

  5. Barry says:

    I would be very, very interested to learn when, and under what circumstances, Abraham Lincoln ‘turned the ropes over to his wife, Mary.’

  6. Steph B. says:

    Just returned from a Labor conference in Nevada. The mood regarding the President’s handling of the Health Care bill, the extension of tax breaks and other issues, was bleak. There is no question that Labor is disappointed with his performance. We all agree that he should have moved assertively, even aggressively forward with a progressive agenda, asking the Republicans to come along with a majority of the electorate, or get the hell out of the way. Instead, we find ourselves in the here and now. I will not abandon the President in 2012 no matter what because the alternative is exponentially worse.

  7. Brooke Vines says:

    Does anybody know more about schooner PRINCE HAMLET? She was sold to Sweden and is in Stockholm now?

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