October 2, 2012


The Great Disconnect : a review of I AM THE CHANGE : Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism By Charles R. Kesler (MARK LILLA, 9/30/12, NY Times Book Review)

Whenever conservatives talk to me about Barack Obama, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. But what exactly? The anger, the suspicion, the freestyle fantasizing have no perceptible object in the space-time continuum that centrist Democrats like me inhabit. What are we missing? Seen from our perspective, the country elected a moderate and cautious straight shooter committed to getting things right and giving the United States its self-­respect back after the Bush-Cheney years. Unlike the crybabies at MSNBC and Harper's Magazine, we never bought into the campaign's hollow "hope and change" rhetoric, so aren't crushed that, well, life got in the way. At most we hoped for a sensible health care program to end the scandal of America's uninsured, and were relieved that Obama proposed no other grand schemes of Nixonian scale. We liked him for his political liberalism and instinctual conservatism. And we still like him.

But more than a few of our fellow citizens are loathing themselves blind over Barack Obama. Why? I need a level-headed conservative to explain this to me, and Charles R. Kesler seems an excellent candidate. An amiable Harvard-­educated disciple of the conservative philosopher Leo Strauss, an admirer of Cicero and the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan, he teaches at Claremont ­McKenna College and is the editor of The Claremont Review of Books, one of the better conservative publications. It is put out by the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, an increasingly influential research group that also runs educational programs for young conservatives of a Tea Party bent. The Claremont Review doesn't like Obama one bit. But it has usually taken the slightly higher road in criticizing him, and when Kesler begins his book by dismissing those who portray the president as "a third-world daddy's boy, Alinskyist agitator, deep-cover Muslim or undocumented alien" the reader is relieved to know that "I Am the Change" won't be another cheap, deflationary ­takedown.

Instead, it is that rarest of things, a cheap inflationary takedown -- a book that so exaggerates the historical significance of this four-year senator from Illinois, who's been at his new job even less time, that he becomes both Alien and Predator. Granted, there is something about Obama that invites psychological projection, notably by Scandinavians bearing gifts. But Kesler outdoes the Nobel Prize committee by raising the Obama presidency to world-historical significance, constructing a fanciful genealogy of modern liberalism that begins just after the French Revolution in the works of the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel; passes through Karl Marx and Charles Darwin and Oswald Spengler; and culminates in . . . "The Audacity of Hope" and 2,000-plus pages of technical jargon in the Affordable Care Act.

It's some performance, and actually quite helpful. A sense of proportion, once the conservative virtue, is considered treasonous on the right today, and Kesler cannot be accused of harboring one. But his systematic exaggerations demonstrate that the right's rage against Obama, which has seeped out into the general public, has very little to do with anything the president has or hasn't done. It's really directed against the historical process they believe has made America what it is today. The conservative mind, a repository of fresh ideas just two decades ago, is now little more than a click-click slide projector holding a tray of apocalyptic images of modern life that keeps spinning around, raising the viewer's fever with every rotation.

...is that Mr. Lilla himself has just argued both that the UR is virtually indistinguishable from W and a radical departure from him, a likewise inflationary tonedown.    The truth of the matter is that just as conservatives would defend Mr. Obama if he were a Republican, so too would Mr. Lilla adore W if he'd been a Democrat.  
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at October 2, 2012 5:30 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus