Barack Obama, failed conservative

Toward the end of Ronald Reagan’s first term, a 22-year-old college senior wrote a letter to his girlfriend. The letter itself is a typical specimen of its kind — confused, half-educated, ponderous, almost painfully earnest — and, despite what some have argued since, it is instructive not as literary criticism but because it tells us something about its author, who would later become the 44th president of the United States:

Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—[T.S.] Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance.

I thought of these lines when I read a recent interview with Barack Obama in The Atlantic, in which the former president admitted that he remains sympathetic to certain tendencies that might be broadly described as “conservative.” This rings true for a number of reasons, some of them superficial. In his public manner Obama was probably the most reserved president since George H.W. Bush, if not since Nixon. His best speeches were masterpieces of rhetoric that belong, perhaps even more than the barnstorming of the current occupant of the White House, to democracy’s oral past. The care that he has always taken with his words — he remains a gifted writer — remind us that he is someone whose imagination draws upon sources that would now be considered unfashionable. Even the would-be sartorial controversies during his administration involved his adherence to traditional norms surrounding summer attire.

But there is another, more important sense in which Obama should be recognized as a conservative: his passiveness in the face of revolutionary change that he not only did not instigate, as our stupidest reactionaries have always insisted, but appeared not to notice.

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In January 2009, smartphones were a novelty item unusable outside of major metropolitan areas. People watched films using DVDs or on television, which had only recently abandoned traditional antenna-based broadcasting. Google was a search engine resorted to by people whose homepages were supplied by their internet service providers — millions of them accessed it via dial-up connection. Amazon was the online version of Barnes and Noble. Same-sex marriage was opposed by virtually the entire leadership of the Democratic Party. The price of gasoline was higher than it is today. More than twice as many journalists were employed by newspapers than are today. The epidemic of opioid abuse and suicide in rural America was just beginning and would proceed apace for a decade without even arousing comment in national media. This country is all but unrecognizable now.

A decade earlier, George H.W. Bush had entitled his own memoir A World Transformed, an acknowledgement of the extraordinary metamorphosis the world had undergone during his own administration and in the ensuing years of the immediate post-Cold War era. For all the transformations that our economic base had undergone since the 1970s, the world on the eve of Obama’s first term, one in …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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