September 5, 2008


How McCain Makes Obama Conservative (JOE KLEIN, 9/04/08, TIME)

What we have is a choice between a conservative and a radical.

The conservative is Barack Obama. He is a careful man, perhaps to a fault. His vice-presidential selection process was quiet, orderly and comprehensive. The selection of Joe Biden was no great surprise — he added experience to the ticket, a reliable loyalist and gleeful attack dog, a working-class Roman Catholic with a terrific personal story. The process was in keeping with the rest of Obama's candidacy: he has taken no great risks. His policy positions are carefully thought out and eminently reasonable, reflecting the solid middle ground of a Democratic Party that is more united on substance than I've ever seen it.

This small-c conservatism is, in part, a calculation. Obama doesn't want to seem angry or threatening, for obvious reasons. But it is also a reflection of who he really is: a fellow who does not like to disappoint anyone, who is obsessed with finding common ground. That may be a great advantage in a President at this ugly moment in our history — but I would feel more comfortable with Obama if he took an occasional play from John McCain's book of partisan transgressions and gored some Democratic oxen. It would be nice if he, say, challenged the teachers' unions, which didn't support him anyway and whose work rules choke out any chance of creative experimentation in the public-school system. Or if he stood against the atrocious Farm Bill, which spreads unnecessary fiscal fertilizer upon an already profitable industry. Or if he didn't feel the need to promise a tax cut to 95% of American families.

But Obama's weakness for undue prudence seems downright virtuous compared with the recklessness that McCain showed in choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate.

If Senator Obama were a conservative he';d win this election easily. All voters are looking for -- as they are throughout the Anglosphere -- is someone to quietly continue the incremental reforms of Bill Clinton and George Bush. But he is more of a reactionary, or at least has drifted that way because of the challenge from Hillary Clinton, and propounds policies that are generally Second Way, rather than Third. Like Al Gore and John Kerry, he's a retrograde figure and, again like them, that's not unlikely to cost him a winnable election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 5, 2008 8:09 AM
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