Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Another Reaction to the Reactions

If Obama’s speech makes him a socialist, Progressive, etc, etc., then Condoleezza Rice, who wrote in Foreign Affairs of the need for the United States to be on the right side of history, is a Marxist-Leninist.

But seriously folks, it was a political speech and while it is fun to find all sorts of emanations and penumbras in it, I think you are missing what the man actually said. Given the state of public discourse, it is good that he did not repudiate the constitution and actually claimed that it has principles embedded in it. Lucas is right that Obama’s specific policy recommendations are a problem. That is the weakness that should be attacked. Lucas is also right to ask us to consider what Obama says about the black American experience, which no one on this blog has attempted yet. That is why I still find much of what is being said here fussy and doctrinaire and, I must say, beside the point.

Finally, what strikes me about much of the blogging here on Obama’s speech is its unhistorical character. One blogger or another defines what America is or what is American or in the Founding according to a set of theoretical preferences (which may in fact be right) and then finds Obama to be un-American or to have abandoned the principles of the Founding. Our actual history is more complicated than that. “Progressivism,” for example, is part of the founding, in part because Protestantism was part of the original America and it was a major part of what became Progressivism. Why ignore this complicated history? Is the actual America so unlovely that it must be made young and beautiful?

Discussions - 19 Comments

Given the state of public discourse, it is good that he did not repudiate the constitution and actually claimed that it has principles embedded in it. I actually agree with that. On some level, I think he has advanced the national conversation in doing this and I welcome it. Now we can talk about what the constitution actually means. The danger in it is that I don't think it means what he said it means and he said it so well. As the Democratic party seems increasingly not to represent the principles of the Constitution, along comes Obama with a speech that was a brilliant attempt to recast those principles in the language of the Constitution or to explain them as if they were emanating from the Constitution. And I think he really believes that they do. We can argue about that and it would be a better conversation (because it would actually be a conversation) than the current liberal/conservative dichotomy. But I am not optimistic, I guess, about the prospects of our side taking on that conversation if they don't see the ways in which Obama's narrative is imperfect. I don't follow you on the ways in which our founding was progressive because also protestant. Please elaborate.

I also agree that it is legitimate and necessary to open up a conversation about the black American experience. I have argued for doing that many times--though I did not directly take it on in this instance. About that, I only said that I thought Obama got the facts right. I still think he came to the wrong conclusions. Also, I am skeptical of Obama's reasons for attempting to open up that dialogue at this moment. He didn't want to do it until it became necessary for his political future. Sadly, I don't see Republicans being willing to take on that conversation until it becomes necessary for their political future either. And, because anger apparently is some kind of political inheritance in this country (whether it ought to be or not), that time may be coming faster than many of them may think.

Yes, it was a political speech. David Frisk is correct when he asks why it is getting so much play on NLT, since it WAS just another political speech. It begins to feel as if the Obama swoon of the left will spread in a wave across the political spectrum. We all find Obama irresistible now.

As to your final point, we are all worried about America in all sorts of ways. I do not see anyone writing on this blog that all is right with America. Any screen I chose to view on my computer seems to offer me either someone being discouraged about America or something discouraging about America. Yet, surely there is a difference between saying "God damn America!" for what she is and saying "I do hope God does not damn America." for what she does. There is a difference between condemnation and hope in the face of adversity. I don't know anyone who does not say, somehow and in varying tones and attitudes, that America is a worrisome place in 2008.

Yes, the American people have had reason to worry before and somehow have muddled through. Maybe that seems amazing to us. Maybe it seems that our luck or God's grace can't hold us up much longer. I don't know. It seems that our current lack of confidence HAS have to be about more than worries about our mortgages and the rise in gasoline prices.

I hope it is an illusory malaise and that America is still beautiful, if not so young. God bless us and I hope it is still morning in America. We are promised that a shout of joy comes in the morning. I'm looking forward to that.

Note, one speech does not a socialist/fascist make.

Obama has given plenty to make that determination. Heck, you can even ignore a speech or two and still come to that conclusion.

David, you seem to reduce the idea of "a political speech" down to a mere exercise in politicing. The ideas matter. Political ideas are not separable from the rest of politics, and the daily grind of politics is not separable from political ideas.

Obama is seeking to use the idea of racial equality as a lever by which to push American government in the direction of more and bigger government. You seem to agree with the concerns just about everyone here has expressed about Obama's domestic policy preferences. Why should those be secondary? Should he become president, they will be of great importance.

The big question is not just what Obama said earlier this week, but what he would be like as President. There a signs of that in his speech. Why is it wrong to focus on them?

On black persons' need to tell their American experience (many fuming as they do) and white Americans' obligation to acknowledge that history (if not endorse the anger politically), Shelby Steele, in a 2002 editorial, had sounder, bolder, and more penetrating remarks than Obama has had lately.

The occasion was Trent Lott's waxing nostalgic about Strom Thurmond's segregation-based presidential campaign way back when. Steele argued that Lott, in his obtuseness about the racial implications of his remarks, displayed a failure of democratic imagination (he also faulted the repentant Lott for his subsequent racial pandering). Steele's idea of citizen imagination is an interesting and challenging application of the equality principle -- and a means of black recognition and black uplift that would be both more and less than a government program.

See it here.

For another conservative's opinion of the speech that appreciates its virtues, while not ignoring its problems, see Abigail Thernstorm's NRO piece. It appears the best debates still take place among friends; perhaps the Claremont folks should sneak a panel or roundtable on "Obama's More Perfect Union" into this summer's APSA schedule.

Richard -- what I meant was that as a practical, not a theoretical matter, Obama's speech was good and reasonable in its principles. I don't think he is vulnerable to the kind of criticisms that have been made on the blog. I think Obama is vulnerable on his policies, some of which at least are not good in themselves and seem to contradict what he said in his speech.

David. Fair enough. I think one can see those principles in his speech, particulaly as it progresses.

Actually, Rice would only be a socialist if she suggested that we need to be on the Left side of history. Wishing to be on the Right side only makes her a Hegelian.

"Wishing to be on the Right side only makes her a Hegelian."-LOL...

Well...I agree with a lot of David Tucker's comments on Obama.

For those like David Frisk who are concerned that posts here are overly praising of Obama consider two views: perhaps the gulf between the liberal evangelicals and the conservative ones isn't that wide. Obama is a liberal evangelical...but certainly some conservative evangelicals prefer his approach to political questions over and above the more secular approach of Clinton or McCain.

Conversely consider that perhaps some of these conservatives are simply pretending to appreciate Obama because he trails Clinton in national polls... when Clinton was behind a few points were made about national security in favor of Clinton. So NoLeft Turns is simply trying to maintain the divide between americans over Clinton and Obama for as long as possible. Some polls even indicate that McCain is now winning over either Clinton or Obama... so the longer this goes on the better things look for McCain...

So perhaps we convince Pennsylvania to vote Obama so that Clinton doesn't win decisively...and bam this thing goes all the way to the convention for sure.

Here is a comforting poll for Republicans...


Local news is that 37% of voters in the Democratic primary in Ohio were cross-over voters. The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections is investigating, although it is not clear to me exactly how. Of course, it is not really a problem if a Republican voter changed parties, except if his intent was to influence the election "maliciously". How will the CC Board of Elections be able to discern malice? Read about it here.
Insincere new Democrats may be prosecuted.

But seriously folks, it was a political speech and while it is fun to find all sorts of emanations and penumbras in it, I think you are missing what the man actually said.

In his speech, Obama refused to disown his spiritual mentor, a hate-filled bigot who sets the United States down as the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany. That isn't found in any emanations or penumbras. It's in the speeches of Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama.

The fact that it was a political speech doesn't give the speaker a free pass. He still comes in for moral criticism -- David Tucker's watery intellectualizing notwithstanding.

Kate: Your comment raises and interesting question about parties. To what extent are they, offically, private organizations, and to what extent are they public entities? On the answer to that question turns the question of who gets to decide who is in a party and who is out of a party, and what kind of penalty there might be for fraud.

what kind of penalty there might be for fraud.

What kind of creepy, Orwellian investigation would have to be undertaken to discover fraud when declaring a largely intellectual position?

Well if it were not for the Zogby poll showing great hope for McCain one could have argued with force that Republicans should have been able to vote in the democratic primary. Back when Ohio voted in the primary things were still bleak enough to presume that in voting for the democratic nominee one was voting for the eventual president, that the democratic nomination was in effect a presidential election. So long as voting for the lesser of two evils is an acceptable/common pratice I can't see how one could be prosecuted for it.

Assume the following scenario: a person who voted in the democratic primary with all intentions of voting for a republican in the main election. Should the state be able to prosecute?

No. The reason is that this same voter may have a strong aversion to one of the candidates on the democratic side and actually support the other marginally. Suppose you believe that McCain and Obama are principled but both have prefer McCain but would not consider an Obama presidency to be a disaster, you cannot say the same about Hillary Clinton. You would actually prefer Huckabee as the nominee but in Ohio such a vote would be simply a protest because the race is statistically you vote for Obama in an effort to assure that both choices on the presidential ballot yield something you consider to be an acceptable outcome.

For comprehension purposes hypothetical prefferences could be quantified as follows: Huckabee 2000, McCain 1000, Obama 600, Hillary -600. Voting for Huckabee in the republican primary looks rational since it is your first choice but it is irrational because that race is outside your control. Therefore you register democrat and vote Obama in the close democratic primary race with all intentions of voting for McCain in a head to head match up. Because it is most rational to have two candidates you could live with so that if things don't go your way in the real election you don't feel as if you should move to Canada. Note that this argument would still carry weight even if McCain wasn't at that point the underdog. A president serves the entire nation not simply that body of people who elected him (or her?). As rational human beings the electorate at large regardless of party affiliation may from time to time have a greater vested interest in selecting its alternative.

This principle means that if the race in one party is wrapped up, the race in the other party is fair game since the question is not simply who will govern democrats(or Republicans) but who will have a chance at governing the nation as a whole.

Just for the record my distribution is somewhere along these lines. Ron Paul 2000, McCain 1000, Clinton 600, Obama negative 600. I voted Irrationally by casting a vote for Ron Paul, I was tempted for vote for Clinton on my own logic. To a certain extent I am upset that Ron Paul couldn't be the candidate of ideas to mobilize the youth vote, and I am scared that Obama is. I don't deny that Obama is the greater statesman between McCain and Clinton, defining a statesman as someone who is able to elevate/change the mood of the people as opposed to simply governing according to how the wind blows(which is why I don't fear Clinton...she will never move the country beyond where it already is or inevitably will be...a Clinton presidency might even be as effective for republicans as the last one was). Obama on the other hand will bring new modes and orders, and redefine liberty in a positive way that is diametrically opposed to my candidate of choice: Ron Paul. Bottom line I don't want Obama to define the political climate of my generation. I don't love McCain but I am happy he is leading. I would vote for McCain over Hillary...but in case the democrats win I want it to be Hillary. I know this makes me quite Hobbesian, but sometimes even when change is needed, no change is better than the wrong change.

Look I am taking Obama at his word, I think he honestly is persuaded in his moral superiority and high road. I think he is statesman like. I don't buy into rhetoric that he is racist. I take his speech on religion at the Sojourner democrat roundtable to be the final word. I think for Obama the american principle is a religious principle: "I am my brothers keeper".

"Well, you know, I always remember Abraham Lincoln, when, during the Civil War, he said, "We shouldn't be asking whose side God is on, but whether we're on his side." And I think that's the question that all of us have to ask ourselves during any battle that's taking place, whether it's political or military, is, are we following his dictates? Are we advancing the causes of justice and freedom? Are we our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper? And that's how I measure whether what we're doing is right"

"Well, I think our starting point has to be based on the notion that I just expressed, that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, that we are connected as a people, that when, as I said in my speech at the Boston convention, when there's a child somewhere here in Washington, D.C., who is impoverished in a crumbling school without prospects and hope for the future, then that impoverishes me. If there's a veteran in Chicago that's foraging through a dumpster because he's now homeless because we did not provide him the services that he needed after he served our country, that diminishes all of our patriotism."

"So the starting point is that, "I've got a stake in other people, and I've got a set of responsibilities towards others, not just towards myself," and that those mutual responsibilities, those obligations, have to express themselves, not just through our churches, and our synagogues, and our mosques, and our temples, not only in our own families, but they have to express themselves through our government."

"We tend to tout our individualism and our self-reliance -- and those are important things -- but we also arrived at this place because we rose and fell together. And I think it's that spirit that's been lost in our politics over the last several years.

So my starting point as president is to restore that sense that we are in this together. That's the starting point. And faith informs that. My moral commitments to that vision of what Dr. King called a beloved community rose out of my faith.

Now, how do we then realize that faith? How do we make sure that it actually lives, that it's not just something that we talk about?"

"We tend to tout our individualism and our self-reliance -- and those are important things -- but we also arrived at this place because we rose and fell together. And I think it's that spirit that's been lost in our politics over the last several years.

So my starting point as president is to restore that sense that we are in this together. That's the starting point. And faith informs that. My moral commitments to that vision of what Dr. King called a beloved community rose out of my faith.

Now, how do we then realize that faith? How do we make sure that it actually lives, that it's not just something that we talk about?"

"The reason we don't make those investments is not because they don't work; it's because we lack the political will. We don't think those children are deserving of a good education, although we won't say that explicitly. Our actions indicate it."

Obama is staight foward...actions indicate belief. Spending more money on early childhood education yields a positive benefit($7 per dollar spent)..."morally" we should be spending more...but republicans are either A immoral...or B ideologically commited to self-reliance and opposed to the good christian virtue of being my brothers keeper(so B Immoral).

Now I consider a conservative like Daniel Bell to be a socialist...first of all because he says he is a socialist and then proceedes to argue that capitalism has cultural contradictions, along lines perhaps not all that different from Obama's brothers keeper approach. When Don in AZ was arguing that America is mostly good he did so on altruistic grounds...When Obama argues that America is not good he argues on altruistic grounds...and you can't beat Obama at this game when in essence "faith" is a matter revealed exclusively and existentially by works done on behalf of others. As long as Obama can cite economists he can make a moral argument that goes as follows... $1 spent on early chilhood education saves $7 and is the morally right thing to do up until the point where potentially it saves less than $1, or detracts from spending that yields a greater bennefit per dollar. But your dollar is essentially your brothers dollar unless you are like Cain, or otherwise misguided about what is pleasing to God.

Yes, this bit in the article I cite, voters lied when they signed affidavits pledging allegiance to their new party. was fascinating. I worked at the poll in my Ohio county during that election. Prospective voters chose their ballots by pointing to either the pink or green or white (non-partisan) cards setting on the table in front of the poll book. We handed them the appropriate ballot and recorded their ballot number on the appropriate page in the book. There was no signed affidavit of pledged allegiance.

To what extent are they, officially, private organizations, and to what extent are they public entities? is a very good question, as is Mr. Mingus'* about probing the intellect, or I should call it judging intent. That latter matter is why I wondered how they would investigate.

Maybe the Democratic Party in Cuyahoga County required oaths of allegiance, but in my county that was all as casual as could be imagined. Pointing to a card on a table surely cannot constitute a pledged allegiance. Can you imagine what chaos at the polls if one of us precinct judges had to administer an oath to every voter who declared his party on election day? I should feel pretty silly being sworn to, as if I had some mystic or authoritative standing in the Republican Party.

The open primaries weaken the party system. Isn't that what was intended? Maybe that is a simple way of saying what John stated in #15. All of this "opening the election process" business begs for mischief.

* Mr. Mingus, a Republican might question the true switching of allegiance to the Democratic Party as having anything to do with intellect if done on principle.

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