July 30, 2008
'Obama Doesn't Really Think This Way'By Christopher Chantrill
This last week conservatives spent a lot of time in the vomitorium. Everything that Candidate Barack Obama has done has seemed like a n an invitation to upchuck.
We are talking about the kumbaya speech at the Siegessäule in Berlin, the culmination of Barack's Excellent Adventure, where we learned that Germany and the United States came together in partnership to solve the problem of the Soviet isolation of Berlin 50 years ago.
Don't worry, writes David Brooks, "Obama doesn't really think this way."
Sorry, David old chum, but I don't feel reassured when some liberal quotes Niebuhr. Indeed, the conservative experience of the last seven years is that while liberals talk a good line about irony and political choice when it comes to walking the walk they hate President Bush precisely because he insists on taking the tragic view, and accepting that tough decisions must be made, taint or no taint.
We understand why that should be so. It's because President Bush's tough choices and obstinate record of actually fighting global Islamic extremism instead of talking about negotiations is an unwelcome challenge to every twentysomething cultural creative sipping a latte in the metrosexual neighborhood of some fashionable ideopolis.
With Barack Obama it's more like the Nietzschean notion of Zarathustra coming down the mountain to bring his creative Übermenschlichkeit to the world.
Even if Sen. Obama is just as hard-headed as Brooks says, there remains the problem of what we might call the Democratic executive-appointee community, the folks in the Obama campaign presently hammering out policy positions who will end up as White House staffers and deputy and assistant secretaries of federal agencies.
Our elite liberal friends are people who have grown up in the assumptions of the liberal elite culture. Liberals are the most educated, most evolved people on the planet, they know. As the most educated, most evolved, most qualified people they understand what the world needs now, and what it needs is people like them who can negotiate with people like them in other countries to resolve our differences.
As for domestic policy, it is evident that Michelle Obama has sat in on enough planning sessions to understand that domestically the Obama presidency will be rather different. "Lexington" reports in the London Economist:
We conservatives understand what this is all about. Our conservative thinkers have written all about it. Writes Danny Kruger, in his book Fraternity:
Isn't that exactly what Michelle Obama was trying to communicate to her audience?
A few weeks ago, I brilliantly explained how the apparently incompatible combination of liberal politics of international kumbaya and domestic compulsion can be understood. It is the notion of "The Moral Equivalent of War," an essay by philosopher William James adapted from a speech he delivered at Stanford University in 1906. Given that we all agree that war is permissible "only when forced upon one," how will we motivate people for political and civic purposes? His answer is to do it with the moral equivalent of war.
This explains why the first impulse of liberals is to negotiate with thug dictators abroad but to demonize their domestic opponents at home as mean-spirited sexists and racists. When you are waging the moral equivalent of war in domestic politics you need an enemy just as much as when you are the head of the military-industrial complex ginning up the nation for a real shooting war.
Conservatives don't believe in the moral equivalent of war. That's because, like Danny Kruger, we believe that all Americans are in this together.
Minette Marrin says it more succinctly. "Conservatism is compassion and community without compulsion."
The reason I quote these Brit thinkers all the time is that I think that they are the conservatives doing the serious thinking. You'd expect that. British conservatives have just spent eleven years in the political wilderness, and that helps to concentrate the mind.
It is not clear that Sen. Obama has ever sojourned in the political wilderness.