April 6, 2009


Obamaism (George Packer, April 13, 2009, The New Yorker)

Well short of Obama’s first hundred days, the dominant characteristic of his Presidency is clear: activist government, on every front. It’s harder to make out the contours of the philosophy at the core of this dazzling blur of action. Given the early and ample track record, there’s surprisingly little agreement over the nature of Obamaism. Obama’s signature projects defy grouping under a single heading, and, as a result, he has been criticized for inconsistency. To take one example, he forced the chief executive of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, into early retirement, and yet he has not called for the removal of any of the failed leaders of America’s financial institutions, like Bank of America’s Kenneth Lewis. He promised a federal guarantee of warranties for owners of G.M. and Chrysler cars, but he won’t put the government in temporary control of the banks, which are at the heart of the economic crisis. He is willing to spend $275 billion for homeowners’ relief, but he won’t let the government enter into the business of making direct loans. He has made health-care reform the ultimate test of his first year, but seems prepared to compromise on significant aspects of the legislation.

To liberals such as Robert Kuttner, of the American Prospect, and Paul Krugman, of the Times, these self-imposed limitations are unnecessary concessions to a free-market ideology that has been thoroughly discredited. In this reading, Obama lacks the courage of his activist impulses, and his hesitations will play right into the hands of his enemies. The usual reply to such criticism is that Obama is basically a pragmatist, who will do what he thinks can work. But pragmatism is a description of a temperament, not an explanation of a world view.

What underlies so many of Obama’s decisions is an attachment to the institutions that hold up American society, a desire to make them function better rather than remake them altogether.

Almost there. He actually isn't concerned at all with how or whether they function, just that he's accepted as capable of functioning within them. As you'd expect of a guy whose parents ditched him and who perceives himself as racially distinct within America, he's driven entirely by the desire to belong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 6, 2009 11:04 AM
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