Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Obama Straddle

In his victory speech, Senator Obama made two claims: That a story like his can only happen in America, and that America needs fundamental change. It will be interesting to see how he reconciles those two things as his Presidency progresses. (Related thoughts here.)

Discussions - 12 Comments


Apparently, you are still having problems with this:

It is possible to love one's country and still acknowledge that it has flaws.

This works with people, too. Remember how proud you all were because Sarah Palin loved her new kid, even though it has Down's Syndrome? That is a good example. She doesn't have to pretend that her kid is problem-free in order to love.

So, one can be proud of one's country even though it has a history of slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid, Klan rallies, Depression, Recession, knuckle-headed leaders, embarrassing moments, and so on. Because that same country is home to terrific examples of bravery, self-sacrifice, brilliant innovation, far-sighted leaders, heart-warming tenderness, and so on.

Is it really the case that this makes your head explode, or are you just looking for something to gripe about?

What reconciliation is needed? O is just another liberal. Liberals keep one set of arguments on the right side of the desk and the opposite on the left. Cf. the Supreme Court that went into high dudgeon in Casey that they never, never, never must change precedent or it would cost their prestige and then in the TX sodomy case reversed the precedent set just a few years before. Socrates knew this as sophistry, but now its known as, well, liberalism.

Fung . . . I cannot let you get away with your cartoon characterization of the understanding of American history held by most contributors to this site as one of considering it "perfect." You either willfully misread us or you demonstrate an inability to appreciate subtle discussion. No one who understands Lincoln at all would ever argue that our history is perfect. It is, on the contrary, your side of the aisle that persists in the hubris that you will make us perfect or be damned trying. You can guess which of the two fates I predict you're more likely to suffer.

Acknowledging the imperfection of men is one thing. But do you mean to suggest that there is something imperfect about the idea that all men are created equal in their rights (as well as in their essential imperfection)? Do you believe that some are born so imperfect that they must be slaves and others are born so perfect as to have a right to rule? Because, let's be clear. When one talks of changing the fundamental nature of the American regime, that's what we must assume he is gunning for. What is more fundamental than this founding principle? You don't talk about changing it if all you really want is to encourage people to work harder to live up to it.

Julie. Precisely. Not everyone is a close reader, I guess.

Ponzi calls people 'tools' on one post and pontificates in Lincolnian prose on another. Close readers see that the latter is just cover for the former.

Julie and Richard,

Now you both know that I am not suggesting that the ideal of equality is in need of change. Nor is there any reason to interpret Obama's statement that way.

But, reality is just as fundamental as the ideal, and if I recall, women were denied the vote, Blacks were denied the vote at the same time in history that "All men" were considered to be created equal.

So, then as now, it is entirely reasonable to value a fundamental ideal and, at the same time voice a need for fundamental change.

Second, it is very possible that Obama was referring not necessarily to a 200-year American "regime" (as you put it), but rather to the conservative regime that many of you at NLT are also questioning. The difference seems to be that many of you are wondering how to get your message out more efficiently and clearly, while the rest of the country questions the content and intent of that message.

I said it years ago on this blog, and I think that it remains true, today: The right-wing conservative movement is interested primarily with conserving its own, and "it," is primarily wealthy, White males.

The main reason that you abhor honest acknowledgment of cracks and flaws in the execution of the American ideal is that those cracks allow the rest of America (those who are not wealthy White males) to see past the facade of "compassionate conservativism" and the level playing field, and "spreading Democracy" and "they hate us because we are free" into an ugly, self-interested, exclusive, mean-spirited reality.

Obama is not an ordinary liberal; he is an audacious one, who wants to transcend both Clinton and Reagan. Obama sees himself as the exception to the ordinary course of things. He fulfils the promise of the Declaration and thus legitimates it, the exception who proves the rule, which must now be understood in a way that it was never understood before.

Even non-Americans know that there is more to the USA than its racial dynamic, which clearly has improved from where it was even 20 years ago.

Equality of people of different skin tones is a much different issue than the cheap equivalence drawn between democracy and neoliberal economics. Free markets do not address all valid political problems.

I declare Mr. Fung the winner.

I'm still puzzled how any careful reader of this blog can believe that we think anyone who criticized America is unpatriotic. (That would include all of us). Similarly, anyone who believes that we are kneee jerk supporters of the free market, or view it as a cure-all, don't understand what we're saying. If a reader thinks that's what we think, he is not reading closely at all.

One final, and related point. The reason why a story like that of Senator Obama can only happen in America (or is most likely to happen here) is connected to those very things that distinguish us from European-style Social Democracies. The freedom our entrepreneurs have is related to the freedom individual Americans have to move socially. Both grow from the fundamental idea Julie highlighted. The idea of equality goes well beyond race.

Nicely said, Richard and Ken.

I declare Mr. Fung the winner. --Bogdan Nowak

I guess this gets to my point about the (perpetual) imperfection of man.

I don't think that you criticize America. I think, instead, that you marginalize those with whom you disagree, or whom you fear, and then criticize them, and question their patriotism. But, I don't see much criticism of America.

Conservatives and liberals alike have a tendency to try to delegitimize their opponents; after all, it's a lot easier than actually trying to engage with their arguments. Conservatives often do it by questioning their opponents' patriotism. Liberals do it by writing things like "The right-wing conservative movement is interested primarily with conserving its own, and 'it,' is primarily wealthy, White males."

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