Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama and conservatives, Part I

President Obama has moved very decisively in the first few days of his presidency to undo the legacy of the Bush Administration. How decisively he has moved I do not think has been appreciated. Scott Horton at Harper's has a good description of the impact (it's also nice to be able to link to Harper's, which has not been quite as pervasive a presence on the Web as The Atlantic).

On the other hand, even as Obama reaches out to traditional conservatives, he smacks the neoconservatives across the face, defining them and their conduct as far outside the mainstream of American culture.
He cites Obama's line from his inaugural speech that

We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
I thot this was one of the best lines of the speech. Horton makes an excellent distinction between "traditional conservatives" and "neoconservatives." Traditional conservatives believe very strongly in the rule of law; neoconservatives, not so much. At least "neoconservatism" as we have seen it the last few years. Traditional conservatism is not dead, but traditional conservatives have not had something or someone that they could believe in besides George W. Bush. Most of them still don't trust traditional liberals. By governing resolutely from the center, Obama gives those traditional conservatives permission to believe in him. They place a high value on values like competence and the wisdom that comes from experience. Obama offers this in spades.

Very little has been noted about the cultural difference between Obama and Clinton that stems from their personality differences. One reason that conservatives didn't like Bill Clinton is that, in terms of his personality, he was very much a child of the '60's, in two respects in particular: although he works very hard, he is not particularly personally disciplined, and he is sexually promiscuous.

Obama, on the other hand, is not a child of the 60's - he wasn't there when students were marching in the streets. He has moderate and average personal tastes. He and Michelle are not prolifigate in any way, and they obviously have a wonderful, solid, traditional marriage. It doesn't hurt that it's obvious why Barack is in love with Michelle - she's tall, beautiful, brilliant, and emotionally very secure. She's a good mother. What's not to love?

So Obama's cultural baggage - or lack thereof - combined with his "traditional" view of American government - i.e., a firm belief in the rule of law - renders him a perfectly acceptable figure for many "traditional conservatives."

Republicans have not yet figured this out. And they aren't going to figure it out for a while. Ha!

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