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No Left Turns Bloggers on Election '08

For those of you who were unable to make it to last night's conversation on the election, here is a link to the podcast. Video will be available sometime next week if you'd rather wait until you can watch as you listen. Our conversation was informal but, also, brutal in its honesty about the prospects before Conservatives as we look ahead to the final week and a half of this election and, it seems, to a likely Obama Administration.

If I may offer myself and my fellow bloggers a gentle criticism, I would say that while an honest assessment of the negatives in front of us is important--it isn't important only for the sake of brutal academic honesty. Such brutal honesty is fine as far as it goes and we'd all rather be right than wrong in seeing the outlines of the political field before us. But once a brutal political fact is asserted, it is also important that we not seem to permit marinating in it or appear to be satisfied merely with nailing the diagnosis. We ought, also, to point to a prescription. Political problems require political answers and an important first step in getting to one, of course, is a more complete understanding of the nature of the problem. But we should also remember that we are talking about political consequences that will have a real impact on the lives and futures of our friends and fellow citizens (to say nothing of ourselves). Given that reality, there is also something to be said on the side of duty; duty to look beyond the problems and toward solutions.

After last night, I am more convinced than ever that the conservative political problem is at once rhetorical and intellectual in that it has failed to connect with the people in such a way as to lift them up to understand as well as love their country. The post-60s Liberal problem might be said to be a reverse of the conservative one in that it offers an understanding of America (that it is an incorrect understanding is beside the point) but it has failed--at least until, perhaps (oddly) this year, to give convincing evidence of love for country. I recognize that this is an odd thing to say, in a way. In a year when the Democrat candidate appears to have connections to questionable people who have expressed more than one variety of deep-seated contempt for America, Conservatives ought to have been able to make a convincing case that Obama did not, in fact, love his country. But this assumption misses the fact that Obama and Conservatives are talking about two completely different things when they talk of love for country. Conservatives made a mistake in thinking that it would be sufficient (to say nothing of possible) to tie Obama to the contempt of Wright, Ayers, and even Michelle.

Obama claimed not to share the sentiments of his more hate-filled associates even as he embraced them as something of a piece with the American experience; a piece of the fabric of our lives. He tells us that he loves America because he is capable of loving all things and, especially, of loving those things that he thinks can be "changed" or made to serve something called progress or--even less dogmatically--"the future." His love letter to America may, in fact, be a love letter to himself. But it should also be remembered that Obama, in embracing Wright at the same time that he distanced himself from Wright, gave every other American permission to write themselves a similarly self-indulgent love letter if only they agreed to come along and be a part of this important moment in our history.

With Obama, you are entitled to your weaknesses and to your cynical narrow interests--especially if you can put them to work for the purposes he believes will move us forward. The only thing you are not permitted to do or to be is someone who is retrograde or reactionary in Obama's view. If your own particular brand of weird opinions do not permit you to move forward with the rest of the country shouting "Yes We Can!" from on high, then you must be defeated. And Obama will not blink as he sets about defeating you. If Conservatives and Republicans fail in this election--as appears now to be the trajectory of events despite some cheering poll numbers--I believe it will be because in recent years (when, by the way, we had ample opportunity to do otherwise) we have failed. We have failed not to prove that we love our country but, rather, to give a satisfactory and compelling explanation of why we love our country.

For good or ill, it now seems clear to me that Barack Obama understands himself to be offering both an understanding of and a reason to love America. Remember that he described his "A More Perfect Union Speech"--where he addressed the question of the Reverend Wright--to be a "teaching moment." From Obama's point of view and if you share Obama's views, this was exactly the right way to understand the situation. He rightly saw the danger and, instead of seeking to mitigate it, he embraced it as he embraces all things. He made it his opportunity.

It is not sufficient to argue that his brand of "love" for America amounts to a condemnation of America as we ought to understand it. This assumes too much. People are looking for a way to understand their country and no politician today can assume that he's working from a pre-existing or deeply held understanding that is healthy at the start. Our educational system has made sure of that. So there is no way for a politician today--particularly an American politician--to speak in short hand about his love of country and putting his "country first" and expect that people will understand him as he understands himself. He is obliged to teach.

It is true that this simpler and older expression of love for America still has some massive appeal (it's not for nothing that Sarah Palin drew crowds of 60,000 + and inspired a two-week surge in the polls for McCain) but good as that was, it required a follow up--an explanation or an understanding of itself that could have been shared with the American people and would have translated itself into confidence in our ticket. People need to know that a candidate thinks he knows what he is doing and why he is doing it. They need to know that a candidate has confidence in his understanding of his purpose. This is why people think Obama is cool. He has that confidence. I think he is wrong to have that confidence because he is wrong in his understanding of America--to say nothing of the character of Americans. Unfortunately, the argument about why he is wrong has not materialized in any public way that was sufficient to our purpose. It may be--though I cannot say for certain--that this has to do with a lack of understanding about that purpose at the top of the ticket.

Having said that, however, I understand that the odds against McCain and Palin (and we don't really need to review those) were stacked heavily against them. Their instincts in responding to the onslaught from Obama and those seduced by him in the media were not entirely wrong and we should be grateful to them for the few high points in the campaign that pointed to hopeful signs on our side (including some healthy fundamentals) and, at the same time, speak volumes about the problem. That there was so much energy stirred by a young, attractive, and conservative governor from America's Western Frontier who exuded a kind of manful (yes, I understand and appreciate the irony in that term) independence is a massive fact that ought not to be forgotten as we move forward. And that a humble guy in Ohio named Joe could come closer than any politician in this election yet has done to causing Barack Obama to lose his "cool" and inspiring the hearts of the American people is also not an insignificant fact. Starting here, we might begin to build a more resonating case for ourselves as we look ahead both to the Congressional races in 2010 and, of course, for a more serious challenge in 2012.

Categories > Elections

Discussions - 6 Comments

“We ought, also, to point to a prescription. Political problems require political answers”

I agree.


“After last night, I am more convinced than ever that the conservative political problem is at once rhetorical and intellectual in that it has failed to connect with the people in such a way as to lift them up to understand as well as love their country.”

This is exactly backwards. Conservatives have all the rhetorical and intellectual tools they need – and they have already sold it to the people. They have failed in action, not ideas or words. Their current political vessel, the GOP has not governed conservatively. If they had, then the temptations the left is selling (as well as it's simple honesty about who and what it is) would not look better than the GOP alternative. Shoot, I am a conservative and the Dem's look more appealing than the GOP right now.


“{long criticism of Obama followed by}...Unfortunately, the argument about why he is wrong has not materialized in any public way that was sufficient to our purpose. “

I think it has – its just that his “wrong” philosophy is at least honest (he really does believe it) and possibly redeemable – in the sense that he would govern to the right of it (either because he is forced to or because he also has a pragmatic streak). The alternative is a GOP without a philosophy – or rather a deceitful one (they govern way to the left of their rhetoric) which makes the Dem's look refreshingly honest.

Julie - I got this far with your post: the conservative political problem is at once rhetorical and intellectual in that it has failed to connect with the people in such a way as to lift them up to understand as well as love their country. Then I stopped. Perhaps I will finish some other time. I suggest you read that sentence to yourself slowly. Then reflect well whether you think you can "connect" with any but your choir.


The Ponzi post is self-deception at its finest. The GOP is losing and not because the people do not understand but because they DO understand your arguments and reject them. They understand that 'love of country' blinds people to other values they actually hold more dear. The conservative movement, on which this site seems to be based, is in its twilight. It has been a bizarre joy to watch the self-righteous rationalizations swirl down the drain.

Here's an interesting news item. The admirable and inimitable ">">http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2008/10/24/reagan-appointee-and-recent-mccain-adviser-charles-fried-supports-obama.aspx"> Charles Fried has jumped ship and supports Senator Obama.

I am sorry for the double post. I'll get used to Captcha one of these days.

On the ride home from Ashland this afternoon, I was listening to NPR. They had some election coverage about the issue of race by a couple of their commentators. They had asked themselves why in predominantly white neighborhoods they saw so many American flags, when in Hispanic and black neighborhoods, they never saw any at all. So they did a survey and the recorded responses they played were really heart-aching, if not h.-breaking. "I don't know exactly how to say it, but I don't feel part of what the flag represents." was the gist of the matter. How awful!

I begin to think that the conservative case for voting for Barack Obama is based simply on identity politics. The issue of race is so deep and so painful in America, surely it is a primal divide that we have to address. I should prefer to have a conservative black candidate. However, if our voting for and supporting Obama as we can will truly heal this terrible dis-ease of America, maybe it is worth it. It has been part of America from the beginning, just a wound that is NOT healing. The NPR spot went on to discus with people of color what it would mean to them to have a president of color. It meant a whole lot. Obviously, I was moved.

We have survived bad presidents. Thank God for the Constitution and four years is not so long.

Now I am trying to decide if I think it would better for Obama to win by a narrow margin, because he would be forced to govern to the middle, as I think GWB has tried to do. However, GWB governing like that has actually made no one happy. So maybe it would be better to have a massive turnout for Obama, a landslide of more than usual Democratic proportions. If he felt personal support from the majority of the nation, that we are voting for him for what he represents in terms of race, and not what he represents in terms of politics, perhaps when we raised our voices in protest over policy he would be inclined to listen. Is this, basically, the Buckley position? Maybe he has a point. I didn't think so yesterday, when I left home, but I am sure thinking about this now.

Have at it, my dears.

Three things: 1) ren is a hack (unlike posters such as Steve Thomas and Fung who almost always disagree but provide thoughtful arguments). He'll get bored and stop after a few months. 2) I don't think Julie's statement is fishy at all; conservatives expect a lot from the citizenry - as such they must engaged and persuaded, rather than led, into our camp. I believe Lincoln called it "moral suasion." 3) I'm glad the dinner went well. Of all the ones I've missed out on since graduating, I regret missing this last one the most. I look forward to watching the video.

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