Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Shirking of Clarity

That’s the just accusation of THE NEW REPUBLIC’s Wieseltier against our president. He should trumpet the grandeur of liberalism, which is the grandeur of big government, including the stimulus package as social policy. Obama might respond that if he were to admit he were a liberal in the grand tradition of his party, then conservatives, whatever their American differences (and including even Dr. Pat Deneen), might summon the courage to unite against him, in the name of the free market (libertarians) or subsidiarity (traditionalists, observant biblical believers, natalists, localists, and agrarians) or the truth about human greatness (Tocquevillians). Lots of conservatives, of course, would embrace more than one of these causes (true Lincolnians and American Thomists, for example). (I just noticed that Steve H posted the same article, but I’m on a roll and am not de-posting. My apologies to Steve.)

Discussions - 9 Comments

Wieseltier, too, is on a roll here. But don't read so selectively. If you liked what he said about the president -- his failure to spell out his public philosophy, the intellectual flabbiness of it all -- you must have been positively tickled by what he said about conservatives. What has become of their principles and their prudence after their years of driving the debate?

Steve, the quality of Wiseltier's analysis can be seen where he writes that Reagan proclaimed "without exception or complication that 'government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem'". That is exactly wrong as any reader of Reagan's First Inaugeral can tell. The rest of Wieseltier's essay maintains the same high standards of fairness, civility and intellectual honesty as regards conservatives.

Wiseltier's essay is a good example of why Obama is where he is and other smarty pants liberals are where they are. Obama gets that trying to sell himself as a sectarian liberal (government good, more government better, "state-building is stimulus to anybody who can think beyond the next bonus or the next poll")is (at this point) a ticket to political marginality. Obama gets that selling his economic liberalism in less direct ways and connecting it to America's traditional language of responsibility (which he uses in verly cleverly ambiguous ways) is the more prudent path to the policies he and Wiseltier desire.

There is also an emotional component to this. Wiseltier wants Obama to proclaim that liberals have always been right about everything and conservatives (mean and stupid as they are) always wrong. He wants a Dean scream. Obama is emotionally mature enough to know when this approach is counterproductive. He would rather win fights than preen about how his side has always been right. I personally hope that Obama takes Wiseltier's advice, but I strongly suspect that we conservative won't be that lucky. Dang.

Pete . . . Shhhhhh!

I'll add my "Shhh, Pete," but not for the pragmatic reasons. It's just that when all is said and done, my moral conviction (and professional preference) holds that the two parties and the presidents and representatives they elect ought to articulate their first principles, and then to stick with them, or explain the qualifying factors why they can't fully abide by them case-by-case. All this pussyfooting around with amorphousness of hope or change or the American genuius gets nauseating. Articulate what you believe in, articulate your willingess to also play the strategic political game to achieve your ends, and then, let the chips fall where they may. Otherwise, the technocrats and scoundrels take the reigns.

So, I'm with Leon! I think I'm speaking in the spirit of (Jim Ceaser's) Marty Van B. Let this President for once give us a speech we can take to the bank as forthrightly standing for the Obaman Creed!

Carl, Obama is very unlikely to take your advice either. The amorphousness might disgust you and frustrate Wiseltier but it is serving Obama's purposes and he will not deviate just to do the right thing. Obama is vague for very specific coldblooded reasons, he has a high tolerance for scoundrels when they serve his purposes and (going by my reading of DREAMS FROM MY FATHER) he has a touching faith in technocracy that he knows not to advertise too broadly. If he were more like Wiseltier(or you or I) would like him to be in terms of ideological openness, he would be more politically vulnerable and he knows it. These are reasons to think of Obama both more and less highly.

Pete, yes, I see that. Just had to vent. And w/o reading the books, I've long picked up an Ivy-League-technocracy vibe from him--glad to see you confirm.

But despite his proclivity to a presidency of the perpetual campaign, why wouldn't WINNING the presidency, with a Democratic majority no less, allow him to step up and articulate something more solid for the American people to consider their allegiance to/judgment of? Even Bush (II) gave us "compassionate conservatism." It's very early yet, but if the pattern so far holds, we must admit there's something either very a) arrogant, b) incompetent, or c) sinsiter(i.e., he's a true Alinksyite!) in his refusal to articulate some broad outlines of governing philosophy. I think it's more a combo of a)(I, Obama, am above ideology) and b)(he realizes he doesn't know what he believes, beyond 'conservatives are bad' and 'technocrats are good'), with intermmitent wishes, on his part, that he is the Progressive mastermind of c).

Carl, on second thought I retract the charge of technocracy (at least based on DREAMS FROM MY FATHER). A romantic statism yes, but technocracy no.

Carl, and I would add at least one more to your list (I'm sure that there are others but I can't think of any right now). Obama knows that there is a large fraction of Americans that are instinctivley suspicious of both conservative limited government and liberal big government ideology. Rather than trying to get this group to join him in favor of bigger government, he shrewdly chooses to join them rhetorically while keeping his statist policies. He narcotizes a certain fraction of the public by saying that the choice is not between big government or small government but effective government. It makes this group more likely to go along with a particular program if they think that it isn't part of some general strategy to expand the government that comes from an ideological orientation. Following the Wieseltier strategy of coming out in favor of bigger government as a good in itself might recruit some of this group to his side but would probably make alot more members of this group suspicious and more open to conservative arguments that Obama is driven by Big Government ideology and therefore not to be trusted.

Reagan was the "fool" who won the Cold War and started the longest peacetime economic expansion in our history. Republicans failed because they ran away from Reaganite principles, not on them. Liberals and Gummint caused this meltdown by dragging winos out of alleys and forcing them to sign mortgages. Government is not even competent to run government, let alone the economy.

Owning a home is the American Dream--an aspiration. Many guys aspire to marry a supermodel, too--but if we put government in charge of that like we did with housing, they'd end up with Helen Thomas in a Victoria's Secret outfit.

Obama is using this "crisis" to grow the government like a cancer. When Reagan said "In this present crisis...", he was saying that government had a proper role but it had vastly over-reached that role, causing the economy to tank. That was true then and true now. Reagan then revived the economy by moving in the exact opposite direction that Obama has taken.

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