They Got Issues

April 20, 2009 8:33 a.m.

We keep the chat shows running through the day at TPM HQ. And I’ve been listening to a constant stream — mainly but not only on Fox — of talk through the day about whether we should feel weak or ashamed or tarnished or any other number of things because President Obama had a friendly handshake with Huge Chavez of Venezuela.

The whole idea seems so deeply silly to me that it’s hard to know how exactly to even comment on it. But I’m struck once again by the sort of psychologically arrested mentality and extreme emotional insecurity that seems at work in the minds of many foreign policy conservatives — or more specifically, so as not to paint with too broad a brush, those of the neo-conish flavor.

Sure, a lot of this is just political posturing — trying to sound the story out for possible political vulnerabilities on Obama’s part. Throw a bunch of mud up against the wall and see what sticks. What’s striking to me though is that a lot of it seems like a very genuine, gut-level emotional response. (A related example is what Matt Yglesias pointed out a few days ago — how many right-wingers seem to have convinced themselves that North Korea, a borderline failed state on the possible brink of economic collapse somehow has the US over a barrel.)

In the course of our normal lives, few of us have much difficulty identifying habits of defensiveness or a penchant for histrionic or petulant interactions as signs of weakness, not strength. Really powerful people don’t need stunts and usually signal their power by a certain graciousness and indifference in such interactions. They have nothing to prove. But American power, respect, command of public opinion — however you want to define it — must be in these people’s minds an extremely brittle thing. They really do seem like extremely insecure people.

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