Gird up for battle. The next two years will be a rocky road.
Barack Obama is no Bill Clinton. He’s far more leftist. He’s at least equally as ruthless (which is really saying something, because both Clintons are among the most ruthless American politicians of our lifetimes). His outlook is far more alien to middle America, in that he really does believe much of middle America is benighted — clinging wrongly to God and guns, unable to think clearly under pressure, too stupid or ignorant or bourgeois to know what’s in their own best interests. And he doesn’t share Clinton’s neediness for short-term, person-to-person, feel-the-brotherly-love positive reinforcement. His goal isn’t personal “connection” with voters; it’s long-term adulation or adoration, verging on worshipfulness — an adulation that recognizes him as a world-transformational figure, a virtual gift to mankind.
Clinton, for all his faults, actually did empathize with individuals. Obama doesn’t empathize; he pities. And the object of pity is not an object to respect, so he doesn’t really respect the citizens he serves; he merely wants to tell them how to live, for what he imagines is their own good. But it’s a cold, supra-rational (but far from reasonable), hyper-judgmental conception of exactly what characterizes the “good” in the first place. Not to push the analogy too far, but at times he reminds me of “IT,” the brain on the planet Camazotz in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. One gets the impression Obama would be perfectly happy if all of us bounced our basketballs in unison — in “mechanistic synchronicity,” as the Wikipedia entry put it — with his aim being “to enforce absolute conformity…, with the claimed benefit of eliminating war, unhappiness and inefficiency.”
Again, the analogy should not be pushed too far: This is not to suggest that Obama, like IT, is evil, but only that he seems in a rather bloodless way to want a society that marches to a uniform beat, dictated by supposed cognoscenti from above. Even if not evil, this vision is antithetical to freedom — not to mention astonishingly creepy.
Obama is perfectly willing to push executive power — actually, executive fiat — to the limit. The blizzard of regulations, or administrative rule-making divorced from congressional intent, that will come in the next two years will be staggering. So will the executive orders. The “privilege” claims against public disclosure will be extravagant. He’ll use the IRS, other administrative agencies, and perhaps the Justice Department, to harass political opponents. He’ll keep trying to find ways to empower union bosses and trial lawyers, leftist “non-profits” and interest groups; and he’ll use AmeriCorps and other federal outlets to help organize quasi-political efforts, too. And everything, absolutely everything, by hook and crook alike, will be aimed at creating a vote-generating machine — (and this does mean generating votes, not necessarily real, live, eligible voters) — unprecedented in the annals of American politics.
This is, after all, a man who looks with a fair amount of disdain, rather than pride, at American history. He sees our flaws, and imagines other flaws that didn’t exist. He despises our ally Great Britain, and resents our ally Israel, and doesn’t really mind leftist agitators such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. He believes corporations are inherently evil, unless they are “partnered” with (or dominated by and directly answerable to) government. He believes not in a free market but a managed market, not in entrepreneurship but in incentivized “investment,” both private and especially public, for the supposed common good.
Obama is, to use the vernacular, an entirely different breed of cat. He does not think in conventional American political terms, or conventional societal terms. This is problematic: While some escapes from convention are devoutly to be desired, his model of action does not even nod to convention at all, and thus not to established and valuable societal norms. We want to celebrate American civilization; Obama wants to redefine it.
Ronald Reagan famously advised Americans to “trust but verify”; when it comes to Obama, conservatives should verify without trusting. We can even give him credit for what by his own lights are noble intentions, while knowing that there really is neither nobility nor admirability in them.
To deal with Obama, then, conservatives will need to keep our cool and keep our wits. But in keeping our cool, we must not be cold-blooded. We act not in hatred for what Obama stands for, but through love for country, Constitution, and civil society. The better angels of our nature, guided by a tough-minded realism, must prevail.