Is Obama the antidote to the Indecent Left?
Alan Johnson, one of my three favourite British intellectuals (alongside Norman Geras and Martin Amis) flashes a light on Obama's Wright albatross from an unexamined angle:
The post-left luxuriates (is there a better word to describe what Wright was doing?) in anti-Americanism, anti-westernism, anti-Zionism, anti-capitalism, and anti-liberalism. ...
...Wright claims: "The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of colour." Mad, of course, but any worse than the post-leftist "9/11 Truth" movement?
How on earth did the left end up here?
...Obama understands that the 1960s had two souls. The optimistic movements of the early 1960s extended the pursuit of happiness to the excluded and challenged America to honour the promissory note issued by the founders. The nihilist movements of the late 1960s denounced "Amerika" and the "great white west".
...Obama's recent speech in Philadelphia was about race, for sure. But, less noticed, it was also a critique of the post-left in the name of a decent left. Wright, he said, had "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country" and his claims "simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality." Wright's "profound mistake" had been to speak "as if our society was static ... irrevocably bound to a tragic past".
In Philadelphia Obama issued a promissory note of his own, pledging to lead the American progressive tradition back into a 221-year-old story begun by a "band of patriots who signed that document in Philadelphia". His warning to progressives was this: only as part of that hopeful story, not the post-left nightmare about "Amerika", can the work of perfecting the union be continued.
I think what Johnson is saying is that Obama is gifted with the talent of "practical wisdom", which Martha Nussbaum defined as the ability to make right (ethical and realistic) judgments, driven by qualities such as compassion, honesty, empathy, responsibility, or commitment—in any given situation.
It was strange to watch or read Obamapundits and other fans trying to parse his speech about race as if it was some endorsement of the deeper truth that his pastor has articulated poorly. Obama made no bones about his own rejection of such theories and hatred. So why did his supporters reflexively rush to his pastor's defence by claiming he said no more than was true? This is just another case where Obama's fierce critics, who tend to scrutinize his words and actions free of of gratuitous sentimentality, seem better able to understand his ideas. Unfortunately, the chorus of his many "helpers" who seek to preserve his saintly image do more harm than good by apologizing for the mad priest.
Johnson's interpretation is in the same vein as Cass Susntein's advocacy of Obama. Sunstein is Martha Nussbaum's life partner. Johnson displays the same kind of sensibility that Nussbaum does in her many books, the same kind of "practical wisdom". Johnson, I happen to know, is also a great reader of Jane Austen's novels...
For exposure to some of Alan Johnson's easy eloquence and intellectual insight, you can listen here to a lecture he gave on Primo Levi.
Neo-neocon does not bite...
Presidents have to make tough decisions, including moral choices. They have to have the sort of moral courage Obama appears to lack. They have to recognize that dialogue is not a panacea.
Yet another flaw is that while Obama may see himself as this sort of politician, his political history gives no indication that it is true. Did he do this sort of thing during his tenure in the Illinois legislature, or the US Senate? If so, I haven’t seen the evidence.
Did he do it in his own church? No, no, a thousand times no. Instead, he either bought into the “crazy things” that went on there, or winked at them, or failed to notice them when they were staring him in the face.
I see no clues in Obama’s political life that he is who he says he is: a person who can bring warring sides together in some sort of agreement. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is sincere in his own belief that he is this person. If so, his belief might be based on episodes from his emotional or family life, or perhaps friendships or school experiences. But extrapolating from these relationships to politics, and to world affairs, is a dangerous game.
Perhaps Obama’s true calling is as mediator, or therapist, or even minister. But not as President.
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Is Obama the antidote to the Indecent Left?