"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Obama Weltanschauung

Well, it now looks like Tuesday, March 4 will be Senator Clinton's Alamo. The polls indicate that Senator Obama, even if he doesn't win Texas or Ohio, will garner enough votes to prevent Hillary from catching up to him in terms of elected delegates. Even Bill has conceded that his wife must win both primaries convincingly in order to stay in the race. So, proceeding on the assumption that Obama will be Senator McCain's opponent in the general election, how should he be evaluated?

Since most readers of this blog probably wouldn't consider voting for Obama any more than I would, I want to propose three themes that McCain needs to sound against him in order to have any chance of winning in face of the groundswell of Obamamania. Even Obama's supporters would do well to note his vulnerability on those themes. Since two of them are, or should be, obvious on a purely tactical level, I shall merely state them without further comment. The third is where our most basic concerns should focus.

The first is that McCain has actually done something important that Obama can only say he wants to do: reach across the partisan divide so as to accomplish things in the legislative branch. Leave aside the question whether the fruits of what was thereby accomplished are truly worthwhile or not. There will never be full consensus about that. The fact remains that, if he sticks to his current ideology, Obama would not be able to do the same sort of thing as president. With one of the most if not the most liberal voting records in the Senate, Obama is a left-wing partisan. His stated, substantive policy positions in this campaign only confirm that. As president, such a man could not and would not win over most Republicans. The most he could do would be to rely on an enlarged Democratic majority in both houses of Congress to pass, over the supine and demoralized minority, the most liberal agenda since the New Deal. That would increase this country's political polarization, not reduce it. It would certainly increase taxes on everybody who pays them, not just on the affluent, who already pay the bulk of taxes as they should. McCain needs to make that clear to the American people, even as he proposes concrete alternatives and makes a case for them.

The second theme is, of course, the commander-in-chief thing. In the upcoming campaign, Obama is never going to be as credible on that score as McCain. The jihadis can help McCain by pulling off some spectacular attack on Americans somewhere, especially on our soil; but I suspect that Bin Laden and Zawahiri have learned enough not to do that. They probably know by now that they helped Bush in 2004 by endorsing Kerry; do you think they're going to help McCain with actual deeds? McCain will be on his own to argue that he understands what we're up against out there better than Obama, who just wants to make nice to everybody except al-Qaeda outside Iraq. McCain needs to stress that letting Iraq slide once again into civil war, which is what a full and precipitate withdrawal from Iraq would be tantamount to, would help al-Qaeda not only in Iraq but all over.

Such things are the bread-and-butter of political tacticians. What really concerns me is where Obama is spiritually. While nobody can effectively judge the state of another's soul, the signs are not good.

Obama is winning the Democratic nomination because his persona is so much more appealing than Clinton's. He is young, smart, cool, skillful both rhetorically and tactically. And it's good for the country that a black man like that is a credible candidate for the Presidency. He's got young people and latté liberals, as well as black people, swooning over him. By contrast, Clinton seems like everyman's first wife or mother-in-law—which explains why her last remaining solid bloc of support is white women old enough to be first wives and/or mothers-in-law. But the really disturbing thing about him is that, underneath the smooth rhetoric of unity, he shares the liberal Weltanschauung. I do not mean merely that his policy prescriptions are predictably liberal fare. I mean that, by sharing the liberal world-view, he makes his persona so radically ambivalent as to be incoherent.

In said world-view, America is more of a problem than a solution for the world. On that score, his wife's comment about being "really proud of America for the first time" in her adult life is revealing. By all means read what this female journalist and that one have said about Michelle in response to that. One comment in particular struck me as a giveaway. Michelle said that Americans have become "mean" and "cynical" and have "broken souls." Now, doubtless there is no shortage of people like that. In today's real world, the temptation to become or to stay like that is ever present for many of us, for reasons I need not elaborate. But I don't think it's valid as a generalization about Americans. And neither is her making such a statement a minor gaffe by a prospective First Lady that the candidate himself can effectively disavow. It is a given of today's liberal Weltanschauung.

Liberals do not, on the whole, like this country. Like much of the rest of the world, they see America first and foremost as greedy and militaristic, in need of more socialism, multiculturalism, and still-greater rights and privileges for women than have already developed over the last generation. In short, we need to become more like Western Europe and Canada. It is in terms of such a world-view that Barack's policy prescriptions, in the foreign and domestic spheres, make sense. But given how he has thematized his persona and campaign, it makes him radically incoherent as a candidate. He simply cannot be coherent as both a builder of bridges among Americans and a liberal whose prescriptions assume that America is mean, rapacious, violent, and cynical. It's not just his voting record that calls his theme of unity into question. It's the very view of reality given away by Michelle's incautious mouth.

This problem is not the sort of thing I know how to highlight in a series of sound bites. But that's what McCain and his staff need to find a way to do.
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