Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Peek at Obama's Political Worldview

I certainly don’t agree with Barack Obama on everything. That being said, when Obama speaks about his overarching political worldview, I often feel like my mind is being read. This is one of the reasons that I have become such a strong supporter of his campaign.

Today, Andrew Sullivan’s blog posted a quote from Obama that appears in the latest issue of Time.

I was always suspicious of dogma, and the excesses of the left and the right. One of my greatest criticisms of the Republican Party over the last 20 years is that it's not particularly conservative. I can read conservatives from an earlier era—a George Will or a Peggy Noonan—and recognize wisdom, because it has much more to do with respect for tradition and the past and I think skepticism about being able to just take apart a society and put it back together. Because I do think that communities and nations and families aren't subject to that kind of mechanical approach to change. But when I look at Tom DeLay or some of the commentators on Fox these days, there's nothing particularly conservative about them.

In my opinion, this simple quote neatly captures several aspects of Obama’s intelligence and political philosophy that have given me the confidence not only to vote for him, but also to openly promote him to people that I know will be skeptical.

Let me be more specific.

These words reveal a mind that is not ideological in nature. Obama not only cites his aversion to dogma, but explicitly acknowledges that both the right and the left often go too far in pursuing their values. It is this mindset that allows me to support him despite the criticism of his very liberal Senate voting record.

Obama also recognizes the value of the conservative political philosophy. He does this explicitly when he acknowledges the “wisdom” of conservative thinkers such as George Will and Peggy Noonan (two of my personal favorites) and implicitly when he cites his biggest problem with modern Republicans – that they “are not particularly conservative”.

As someone who voted Republican in 1996 and even 2000, I could not agree more. (For example, cutting taxes while dramatically raising spending (e.g. two wars, the Medicare Prescription Drug act) is not conservative. Subsidizing Exxon in times of record profits is not conservative.).

Beyond acknowledging the value of conservative political thought, Obama also reveals a belief that is directly at odds with extreme ideological liberalism: that the power of government intervention is clearly limited. Perhaps I am reading too much into his words, but I think that when Obama says that “nations and families aren’t subject to that kind of mechanical change” he is acknowledging what few ideological liberals will - that there major limits to what government can achieve and, therefore, we should be skeptical and incremental when we expand its purpose and power.

Am I reading too much into these words? I would be happy to hear alternative and/or skeptical opinions.

If you buy this argument, I encourage you to forward it to skeptics.


Unknown said...

I don't think that there are very many liberals who would deny that the government's ability to effect change is limited. Who really believes that the government is the solution to everything? I suppose that that would constitute "extreme ideological liberalism," but do the people who really believe this actually hold any political power or influence? It's easy to smear a liberal by calling him a pinko commie welfare-state socialist, but it's rare that the charge is actually warranted.

This, I think, points to one of the key differences between the left and the right in the United States today: both sides have their nutjobs, but the left's nutjobs are sitting in trees in Berkeley while the right's nutjobs are somehow sitting in Congress.

Jared said...

I'm glad you made this comment Steve.

I agree that there are few liberals who would deny that the governments power is limited. I don't just believe this, I KNOW it after my tenure in the ivory tower of the Kennedy School. :)

But you ask, "do the people who really believe this actually hold any political power or influence"?

You and I KNOW that the answer to this question is NO. Both the rhetoric AND the actions of the left's political leaders reflect this. As you said, the left's share of the crazy people are a safe distance from D.C.

Nevertheless, I continue to be stunned by how effective these charges and claims are in certain parts of the country. I know college graduates in my home state that really believe that liberals actually want people to be dependent on the government for everything for the sake of their own accumulation of power. Rush Limbaugh spouts this nonsense almost daily and MILLIONS of people listen to him - and MANY are not simply uneducated or otherwise ignorant.

Think about it - how many times do Republicans use the words "socialized medicine" when referring to Democratic health plans when even the most expansive proposals in recent decades (e.g. the Clintons in 1993) are not even remotely close to a socialized system? It works even though it is totally untrue.

In short, the charge is still extraordinary effective in a critical mass of the country. That fact that it is not warranted is irrelevant to its effectiveness.

So, I'm doing my small part to call it out and refute it. It's particular important to fight this fight with Obama because he is substantially less willing to run away from his left of center views than the handful of Democrats that have been successful in recent years (e.g. the Clintons).

James F Barry said...

I want to make explicit something that is "in between the lines" of this thread. There are those that think Obama IS the left-wing nut job. Limbaugh is one of several that promulgate this image of Obama every day; It IS effective.

It is posts like this that will hopefully begin to permeate the name calling, if just a little bit.

Unknown said...

Nevertheless, I continue to be stunned by how effective these charges and claims are in certain parts of the country.

This has been the source of essentially all my political frustration since 2000. The eagerness with which so many people have swallowed whatever the Republican Party has fed them has been disturbing and depressing.

I was heartened by the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections, which, happily, came out much differently from how I predicted they would. Hopefully, this year, the country will continue to punish the Republicans and send them back to party headquarters to rethink things (and maybe write "I will not ruin America" 200 times on a blackboard). Then, maybe in four to eight years, when they've learned to behave and when the country has swung back to the middle from the right, they can put forward some nice candidates who don't think--or pander to those who think--that the Muslims are in league with the homosexuals to destroy America.

As you say, there is value in having a genuinely conservative party in America. It keeps the liberal side honest by frowning upon the governmental excesses that those on the left will sometimes let slide. I would love to see a renewed Republican Party, run by intelligent paleoconservatives who are capable of discussion and reason. I might never vote for such persons myself, but at least I could respect them.