January 22, 2009

OUR GUY:

The Conservative Revolutionary (Michael Gerson, January 21, 2009, Washington Post)

In content, Obama's speech was more compelling. His vivid assurances of toughness on national security were genuinely reassuring. When is the last time we heard a national Democrat admit that "our nation is at war" and promise to "defeat" American enemies? His discussion of the role of government was more sophisticated than in any inaugural since Ronald Reagan's in 1981 -- though his postpartisan appeal more resembled Bill Clinton's Third Way than Reagan's firm assertion of limited government.

And Obama's main argument -- for a "new era of responsibility" -- was traditional without being tired. From the beginning, Americans have displayed a unique combination of revolutionary idealism and moral conservatism. American presidents have generally asserted that the achievement of radical or progressive ideals such as unity and social justice requires a return to timeless American values such as responsibility and self-restraint, charity and the end of malice. Woodrow Wilson, for example, argued that "there has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed and be great. Our thought has been, 'Let every man look out for himself.'" But the answer, he continued, would be found in restoring "the standards we so proudly set up at the beginning and have always carried at our hearts."

Similarly, Obama's address diagnosed a time of "standing pat, of protecting narrow interests." And he rooted his vision of social and economic restoration in the renewal of moral virtues -- courage, honesty, fair play, loyalty, tolerance, patriotism and duty. He insisted on using the word "virtue" and explained that such convictions are not merely useful but "true."

This shows a deep understanding of America, which remains moral to its core -- and a mature understanding of American leadership. Obama's argument should appeal to many conservatives, who would never accept a case for progressive policies based on relativistic or libertarian moral views. Like Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., Obama positioned himself as a conservative revolutionary -- attempting to re-create our country by reasserting the traditional moral principles that gave it birth.


Betrayed by Obama: Some of the new president’s most ardent supporters already feel let down (Lexington, 1/21/09, The Economist)
It has been only two-and-a-half months since Mr Obama was elected, but his “Yes, We Can” coalition is already fraying at the edges. In his appointments and pronouncements, Mr Obama keeps hinting that he is neither as radical nor as pure as his progressive supporters dared to hope. Anti-war activists, who rallied round him in the Democratic primaries because he was the only top-tier candidate to have opposed the Iraq war from the outset, now see worrying signs that their hero is a closet hawk. On the stump, he used to say things like: “I will bring this war to an end in 2009. So don’t be confused.” Now he says it might take a bit longer. To make matters worse, he has kept George Bush’s defence secretary, Robert Gates, in his job. “Not a single member of Obama’s foreign-policy [and] national-security team opposed the war,” fumes Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the Nation, a lefty magazine, adding that Mr Gates is “a terrible pick”.

Far from ending Mr Bush’s war on terror, Mr Obama plans to ramp it up in Afghanistan, albeit under a different label. When Israel started bombing Gaza, he barely protested. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, an anti-war group, howled that Mr Obama “has been missing in action” while the people of Gaza were being massacred. Others go further. John Pilger, an Australian journalist, bristles that the vice-president, Joe Biden, is “a proud war-maker and Zionist”, while Mr Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is a Zionist who “opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians”. Some folks are outraged, too, by Mr Obama’s rumoured selection of Dennis Ross, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s administration, as his point man on Iran. Robert Naiman, an analyst at a group called Just Foreign Policy, thinks Mr Ross might “set the stage for war with Iran”. (Mr Ross favours offering Iran carrots and sticks to abandon its nuclear ambitions, but will not rule out military action.)

During the campaign, Mr Obama called the prison at Guantánamo Bay a “betrayal of American values” and promised to close it. On his first day in office he suspended legal proceedings against the inmates. But he has yet to figure out what to do with them. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said he would consider it a failure if he had not closed the prison system down by the end of his first term. On anti-terrorism policy generally, Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, recently remarked that before Mr Obama started to keep his campaign promises, he needed “to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it.” Mr Obama described this as “pretty good advice”. The people who used to flock to his rallies with placards demanding that Mr Bush and Mr Cheney be tried as war criminals are aghast, not least because Mr Obama appears disinclined to prosecute anyone.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2009 8:47 PM
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