Mr. Obama, Round II: Not a Mandate
The race was tight. Tight enough that one winces when the Left declares a mandate for Mr. Obama. Mr. Friedman's analysis is characteristic:
It seems that many Americans went to the polls without much enthusiasm for either candidate, but, nevertheless, with a clear idea of whom they preferred. The majority seemed to be saying to Obama: "You didn't get it all right the first time, but we're going to give you a second chance." In a way, they voted for "hope and change" again.
That's a bit sloppy. Americans demonstrated a "clear idea of whom they preferred"? Nearly half the county voted for Mr. Romney, and as Mr. Friedman just conceded, many who voted for Mr. Obama were disenchanted. The final sentence, in fact, reverses the mandate: voters shouldn't need to cast their ballots for "hope and change" when they're reinstituting an incumbent.
Mr. Obama was ideological as ever in his victory speech. Love, Duty, Charity, and Patriotism, claimed Mr. Obama, define America. It's a post-historical dream come true. Freedom, Justice, and Natural Rights seem to have been permanently relegated to the back burner. It's not that Mr. Obama is necessarily trying to obliterate these defining features of American political life; I think he just prefers to appeal to increasingly unphilosophical Americans in a feel-good fashion, which explains his descriptive rhetoric -- rhetoric that achieves its purpose through associative means and grandiose moments.
C.S. Lewis wrote that virtues and vices are inextricably linked. Mr. Obama's biggest flaw and greatestpolitical strength is his ideological nature. It got him reelected because his ideology is vague enough to be appealing to the average American. It hurts him when he's postured next to a competent technocrat like Mr. Ryan in a policy summit, but its rosiness also gives him a glow next to serious, task-focused Mr. Romney in a grand debate. Much as Republicans hate to admit it, Mr. Obama is a personable guy. His family life is laudable.His post-partisan rhetoric is somewhat ironic, especially in light of his divisive acts -- namely, say, the forcible passage of the healthcare bill. But here's to hoping that he means it when he says we'll move forward with as much unity as possible.
The election was not a mandate, and Mr. Obama knows it. The problem is that Mr. Obama sees "unity" as compromising on policy particulars, but agreeing that the state should fix our social problems. Unity, for Mr. Obama, means that Republicans will vote in the name of Progress. He simply doesn't grasp that there is a compassionate conservatism that can offer a privately controlled, socially acceptable alternative to the welfare state. And I don't blame him -- Republicans have done a lousy job at defining that alternative in the last four years. The spread of nominees in the Republican primaries more than showed the flaws in a Republicanism that, on the one hand, tries to appeal on the basis of covetous materialism rather than on principles of magnanimity and civic virtue; on the other, its efforts to sustain a moral backdrop, badly articulated, come across as intolerant and antiquated.
This morning, Conservatives should take an aspirin or two, boil a cup of tea, and open a volume of Edmund Burke. Burke's conservatism is one that relies on adapting first principles to changing historical circumstances. It's soothing. And its lessons are long overdue.
Finally, we can learn from the Romney/Ryan ticket. Mr. Romney had a commendable election season. As the WSJ put it:
Mr. Romney is one of the least natural politicians of our era, but he is a laudable man who ran a spirited campaign on a reform agenda, especially after the first debate on October 3. He took a risk of putting Paul Ryan on the ticket, and the Congressman proved to be a campaign asset, even if he couldn't overcome the strong Democratic turnout in Wisconsin.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan made a template of a good ticket for future contests. They were articulate, focused, and did the best job they could in a polarizing election. The Republican message, however, needs to change. If we want to campaign on first principles, these principles can't hollowly support only fiscal deregulation. They must also emphasize moral principles. As well as protecting life at every stage, this means a compassionate, serious consideration of how to deal with homelessness, joblessness, and immigration. It doesn't mean dialoguing into the mirror about one's freedom to guard his riches.
Try the British medicine. Burke and tea.