Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Obama's "North Star"

On October 6, 2010, I wrote:

the Dems have been far more consistent - read, extreme - in cleaving to their collectivist “ideological purity”. Socialism has had a loud voice in the Democratic Party, but capitalism has yet to find its political voice. The two ideological extremes are the primary combatants. The Left knows it. The Right doesn’t. The result: The political "middle" keeps moving Left.

Socialism, not surprisingly, is winning.

This was demonstrated once again in the recent tax deal
between the resurgent Republicans and President Obama.

President Obama’s recent tax compromise with the Republicans – extending all of the Bush tax cuts for two years coupled with a 13 month extension of unemployment benefits, among other things – infuriated his Left/liberal base like Move

More thoughtful Leftist supporters like Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne did recognize that the deal gained more for Obama than many others believed. But he, too, was disturbed by Obama’s slap at his liberal base (Casting liberal allies aside will hurt Obama in the long run
. Citing the president’s description of liberal critics as “sanctimonious”, Dionne writes:

Obama's comments make you wonder: Whom does he think he can count on when conservatives try to repeal the health-care law, force cuts in programs he supports, investigate his administration down to the last pencil and continue to denounce him as an un-American socialist?

Dionne believes that “In the short term, Obama did get more than most liberals expected.” He goes on to describe those liberal gains in the tax deal and how it “achieves many progressive goals. “But”, he asks:

…in the long run, is Obama capable of winning the battles with the Republicans that this temporary agreement sets up?

Mr. Dionne is skeptical, but he appears to have missed something important. This is surprising to me, since I consider him one of the political scene's most astute observers – albeit from the Leftist side of the ideological divide. The GOP leadership may or may not have won tactically, but Obama presented a philosophical challenge that went unanswered. Simply listen to his “North Star” speech in response to a reporter’s question relating to his “core values”.

In his answer, Obama laid out clearly the nature of the political battle as he sees it. He made clear his belief in abstract ideals as a guiding “North Star” in determining the political direction of a country. He presented several analogies to make the point. This country’s Founding, he said, included a political compromise that would not have permitted him to “go through the front door” – clearly referring to the acceptance of slavery in defiance of the Declaration’s stated ideals – ideals that eventually would eradicate slavery. He also pointed to Social Security and Medicare, which “started out small, and grew”.

Obama’s referral to “the public option debate all over again” seemed like a confusing throw-in to many. But, seen from its proper perspective, which Obama articulated quite clearly, this analogy is not puzzling at all. He makes the pertinent point: The ObamaCare bill, even without the public option, advances the goal toward universal … i.e., socialized … healthcare – a “dream of Democrats for 100 years”. Obama “tacked this way or that”, but never lost his focus on that North Star.

Despite his rhetoric for the need to avoid “purist” abstract arguments in order to “get things done”, Obama clearly understands the value of abstract ideals to making concrete progress toward that North Star. Only one other president in my lifetime matches Obama’s philosophical acumen – Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s North Star was individualism. It served him well, for a time. Obama’s is collectivism. It continues to serve the Left well, even if they can’t see it. Since only the Democrats have cleaved consistently to their North Star in the abstract, the past hundred years has seen a steady drift toward collectivism’s political manifestation, socialism – despite numerous compromises and backing and filling. Obama’s first two years has seen a continuation – indeed an acceleration – of that trend. (For an in depth discussion, see my post of 10/6/10, “Extremists vs. the Moderates: Why the Left Keeps Winning, and the Right has been Powerless to Stop It”.)

Contrast the Republican take on the tax cut deal. They presented no North Star. They made some valid utilitarian arguments, but avoided any reference to core principles like free markets, the moral right to one’s earnings, individual rights. Much to my dismay, though not surprisingly, Obama seized the philosophical high ground for the Left, even though his Left base is too clueless to see it. He seized it, in typical fashion, by default. What this country needs is a knock down, no-holds-barred, polarizing ideological fight between the two extremes – collectivism and individualism. Collectivism has its voice in the White House. Individualism has no political voice (although culturally, it’s manifested implicitly in the Tea Party Movement).

Details of the tax compromise aside, Obama reaffirmed an unwavering commitment to his long-term goals. Sanctimony and purism was clearly on display, if one knows where to look. Obama won round one where it counts the most – on the philosophical battleground. This does not bode well for freedom lovers. But with the Tea Party roiling the waters, there is still hope.

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